Muscovado

Tue 14th – Sat 18th April 2015

reviews

Aine Fairbrother-Browne

at 23:25 on 14th Apr 2015

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This inevitably tragic play begins with the slow, toiled, beat of a gong, something that is central to this tale of slavery and cruelty set in sweltering Barbados. The plantation owners, Lady and Master Fairbranch, are complex and realistic characters. Master Fairbranch is never seen on stage, only spoken of, his ghostly presence providing an unmistakably foreboding tone that settles over the performance, often heightening the fearful atmosphere following lulls of comedic relief.

There are songs littered throughout the performance, and give an interesting new dimension to the mood of this multi-faceted narrative. All the music in the piece is all original and written specifically for Muscavado by James Reynolds, who plays the ‘unknown fellow/musician’, and sings angelically throughout. In this role, he contributed significantly to the intense emotional atmosphere of the performance.

The play is a true story, based on artifacts given to Clemmie Reynolds, who played Kitty Fairbranch, by her great aunt. The actors brought across excellently that these events are not just fiction, but palpably, achingly, real. As the slaves struggle to toe the line of obedience under tyranny, the laws governing slavery are beginning to work against the Fairbranchs. Three stories intertwine in the house of the plantation owners: Asa (Alexander Kiffin) is torn between his loyalty to his ‘master’ and his love for Elsie (Damilola K Fashola). Kitty Fairbranch is torn between her need for love and her status, giving her a dual personality that shows her to comb her slave’s hair one minute – the delightful child Willa (Sophia Mackay) - and burn her the next. The third story is of sexual abuse and the Master’s desire for an heir, played out by Parson Lucy (a cruel religious figure), Kitty and the Master. It is this intertwining narrative that makes this play delightfully gripping, the audience eager for more.

The staging and costumes were simple and accurate, with no unnecessary props to distract from the performance. This play is refreshing and poignant, for, by focusing on a small sub-section of the dynamic between the masters and the slaves, it catches the intimacy and domesticity that recent films with a wider scope of slavery, such as 12 Years A Slave, may have missed. Muscovado gives a high resolution insight into this turbulent time in history. It is a production I would highly recommend seeing!

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Ella Wilks-Harper

at 23:36 on 14th Apr 2015

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BurntOut Theatre’s play, Muscovado provides a fresh insight into slavery, more specifically the power struggle within the master’s house. With the abolition of slavery looming over the plantation house, the audience are welcomed into the gradual deterioration of control and power that the master’s wife, Kitty Fairbranch (Clemmine Reynolds) attempts to maintain.

The audience are reminded of the shocking racist beliefs during that time which brought unsettling but much needed humour to the drama on stage. It was surprising to find that the most harrowing aspect of the play was unseen, in the form of the Captain, Kitty’s husband. Not only did he dominate the stage through the constant reminder of his demands, he also exposed but the little power in which Kitty Fairbranch held over the plantation. Unable to provide a child, she is left in the house to be waited on by the young slave girl Willa (Sophia Mackay) and influenced by the scheming Parson Lucy (Adam Morris).

Although at times the character of Parson Lucy was irritating, he was largely successful in exposing his motives to inherit the plantation. It was unclear whether his schemes were meant to be as conspicuous as they were, nevertheless, the actor's interpretation undoubtedly effected Kitty’s character, making her appear like a gullible puppet, which throughout the play was not evident.

However this did not deter from the overall brilliance of the production. Arguably the most successful aspect of the production was the use of sound and costume. The costume and props by Juliet Leigh reminded the audience of the horrendous conditions of the slaves and the intense heat of Barbados, with the sound of fans and insects being a constant presence on stage. The added incorporation of songs by the actors also aided in the underlying determination of the inhabitants of the plantation, the songs gradually becoming more heart-rending. Praise must be given to James Reynold who composed and made all the music on stage. Although his acting role was small, his role as musical producer was pivotal as each scene and transition was made perfect and gripping.

If you want an alternative, refreshing insight into slavery that differs from recent depictions such as Django or 12 Years a Slave, Muscovado is a must see.

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