Muscovado

This searing and heady tale of the inhabitants of a 19th century sugar plantation in Barbados should have provoked a wealth of emotion from its majorly white audience, however it fell disappointingly flat. The play follows Lady Fairbranch and her slaves that live on the plantation, weaving a tale that vaguely centres on themes of cruelty and love in the midst of changing civil rights laws. Muscovado also featured a hammed-up Pastor – unsubtly used to portray the cruelty of religion in terms of race – and a musician who used his particular skill set well but should have avoided his occasional ‘cameo’ roles.

The production values of the show were excellent with a haunting use of music and harmony. These onstage sound effects and the glistening, sweaty skin of the actors by candlelight manipulated the churchly setting and transported the audience into the Barbadian heat.

The main problem with the production was its deficiency in terms of plot and conclusion – it seemed to have little in the way of coherent narrative, giving the sense that some unfortunate cuts had been made. The Lady Fairbranch character lacked motive for most of her scenes and dialogue, creating a character that was impossible to relate to and entirely unsympathetic. In contrast to the Lady of the house, the characters of the slaves were incredibly compelling – begging the question whether the previous lack of coherency is present in the writing or in the interpretation. Slaves Asa, Elsie and Willa, despite occasionally waning accents, were all played convincingly and with a complexity that the other characters lacked – bringing vivid, sparkling dialogue to a production that really needed a lift.

The production values of the show were excellent with a haunting use of music and harmony. These onstage sound effects and the glistening, sweaty skin of the actors by candlelight manipulated the churchly setting and transported the audience into the Barbadian heat. All in all, the show remained a visceral experience with certain senses being engaged to their full potential – however this aesthetic opulence cannot salvage a production that, apart from certain exceptions, remained uncompelling. 

Reviews by Corinne O'Sullivan

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Performances

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The Blurb

Muscovado is the scorching new play by Matilda Ibini about slavery in 19th Century Barbados. A heady mix of sexual intrigue, piercing choral music and extreme racial tension, Muscovado provides an unflinching portrayal of life on a sugar plantation in 1808, accompanied by an original musical score and atmospheric soundscape. “A truly visceral experience.” **** British Theatre Guide “This isn’t theatre for the faint-hearted – it’s gruelling stuff. Go if you can.” **** FemaleArts.com

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