Touring the UK in 2015-16
A new play by Matilda Ibini
Commissioned and Directed by Clemmie Reynolds
Original Music by James Reynolds
WINNER Alfred Fagon Audience Award 2015
Shortlisted for The Alfred Fagon Award for Best New Play of 2014
“Gets the heart pumping” – TimeOut.com
“Evocative, atmospheric…Vividly staged in all its distressing force” – The Stage
“***** 5 STARS – An absolute scorcher…overwhelmingly compelling” – LondonTheatre1“Compelling theatre. The young cast give very fine performances “ – RemoteGoat
Muscovado is BurntOut Theatre’s scorching new play about slavery in Nineteenth 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 performed live by the cast.
Please note: During the performances in April, the part of Elsie will be played by Cheryl Walker.
Slave Trade Tour dates and Venues:
LONDON Theatre503, Battersea: February 24 – March 8 7.45pm. BUY TICKETS LONDON Bread and Roses Theatre, Clapham: 10-14 March 7.30pm. BUY TICKETS HULL Fruitspace: 30-31 March 7.30pm. BUY TICKETS BRIGHTON Malborough Theatre: 9 April 8pm. BUY TICKETS BRISTOL Alma Tavern Theatre: 14-18 April 8pm, BUY TICKETS PLYMOUTH Stoke Damerel Church: 19 and 20 April, 6.30pm and 7.30pm. BUY TICKETS LIVERPOOL Lantern Theatre: 30 April 7.30pm. BUY TICKETS BRIGHTON FRINGE Duke Box at St Andrews: 5 and 6, May 7.30pm BUY TICKETS DORSET Bridport Arts Centre: 9 May, 7.30pm. BUY TICKETS KENT, Blackfen School, Bexley: 2 June 10am. (Please email firstname.lastname@example.org for tickets.) KENT, Hall Place: 4 & 5 June 10am. (Please email email@example.com for tickets.)
LONDON, RADA Festival 3 July, 7pm.
Please note: at all performances in April, the part of Elsie will be played by Cheryl Walker
“Gets the heart pumping” – TimeOut.com
“Vividly staged…Shocking to watch…Ibini weaves together the themes of sex, race and violence, with a mixture of powerful confrontations and more surreal and farcical moments” – The Stage
“***** 5 STARS – An absolute scorcher…overwhelmingly compelling” – LondonTheatre1
“A visceral, compelling, achingly well-realised piece of theatre” – EXTRA! EXTRA!
“Compelling theatre. The young cast give very fine performances ” – RemoteGoat
“A truly visceral experience. The sweat dripping from the bodies of the actors, confessions in candlelight and sacred song combine with some great writing from a promising future playwright.” **** – The British Theatre Guide
“A passionate piece of work. A necessary and daring insight into history that should never be forgotten and never be repeated.” – Afridiziak.com
“Terrific…I would urge you to experience this play for yourself” – British Blacklist
“Tremendous… one of the best little touring productions you will be lucky to catch this year” – ***** 5 Stars, Bridport Review
London Theatre Interview Series 2014
24 Feb – 7 March,
Tues – Sat 7.45pm, Sun 5pm
Having already had a successful run in London during Black History Month in 2014 BurntOut Theatre’s original production by promising playwright Matilda Ibini ‘Muscovado’ will be touring several cities around the UK in 2015.
A stirring and power piece ‘Muscovado’ takes a hard look at the role of the British during slavery in Barbados at the start 19th Century. BurntOut Theatre commissioned ‘Muscovado’ following the discovery of archives from Barbados of Artistic Director Clemmie Reynolds’ family.
tNC spoke with Clemmie to talk about the development of ‘Muscovado’ and what audience can expect to discover.
Hi Clemmie thanks for talking to tNC, have you been able to find any time to rest at all?
Not really! As soon as our run of Muscovado at Holy Trinity Clapham in October was finished, I immediately began planning our UK tour! I wanted to make the most of the buzz we had around Black History Month. The response was overwhelming; we sold out the show after the first night, and had to open a waiting list. People came back to see the show two nights running. After that, I realised this was something that should live on and get to more people.
What does it mean for you to be take Muscovado on a UK Tour?
It’s very exciting. It will be the first time BurntOut Theatre has performed outside of our South East home. We just want to spread this story. The heritage of Brits of Caribbean descent is so rarely explored in theatre or film, and when it is, the story is usually told from the point of view of the white men; ours is a story of the women of this time and place.
It’s an important and timely story to tell, particularly now when new examples of modern slavery are being unearthed every week.
Tell me a little bit about Muscovado, how did the show come about?
18 months ago my Great Aunt showed me a box of papers that were the remains of her family’s life in Barbados. Here was a collection of memories from the 1600s, when the Branch family sailed from Sussex to Barbados, to the 1900s, when my great grandfather left the island after his home was destroyed in a hurricane. There were timelines, birth records, diary entries, songs, and portrait photographs showing large groups of ladies under white parasols and men in cream suits in the midst of tropical rainforests.
The facts and details about my family’s daily lives were scant; however the few richly observed anecdotes painted an impression of a diverse and complex community united by the harsh existence that was life on Barbados at this time; brutal heat, disease, hurricanes – and by the unanimous dream of one day leaving the island.
Another commonality shared by both the white and black communities was fear; for the slaves this was a constant threat of punishment, whippings and murder that were daily occurrences on the plantations; for the white planters this was an unending terror of uprising by their slaves who outnumbered them 1000-1, and by the 1800s were beginning to catch wind of the abolition movement gathering strength in Britain.
I was interested too to discover the position of women at this time, who, if they were free had little more say in the direction of their lives than their husbands’ slaves; and if they were enslaved would be constantly at the mercy of their owners’ sexual appetites.
The complex community, that was drawn by these letters and papers seemed to be a ripe setting for a play; and is a subject rarely chosen for theatre or film – slavery in America being the most often depicted.
I was introduced to Matilda Ibini last September, and together we began to build on this small bundle of papers. We read books, visited museums, spoke to historians; we gathered a group of actors and slave trade expert Steve Martin and developed the first bones of the play through research and development workshops.In the spring we tested the first draft with readings atYoung Vic and at Clapham Omnibus; and performed the first three scenes in the grand Georgian lecture hall at the V&A as part of an event called; The Other Georgian Story.
What was it about Matilda’s text that really spoke to you?
Matilda has a beautiful style of writing, but it’s also punchy. Her words are both poetic and economical. She writes in short snappy scenes that give her plays a filmic quality. Her writing is ambitious, and portrays a wisdom and vision that seems incredible in spite of her 23 years!
Was it hard to convince you to take on this project?
We met at the Royal Court having been introduced by a mutual friend. I think she had very little idea beforehand of what I was going to propose, and I was nervous she would run an mile! It’s an ambitious project, and a subject that some writers would not want to touch with a barge pole. By she was hugely excited by the challenge. She had no real prior knowledge of slavery or the slave trade, and had not even had one of her plays staged before. But she was wonderfully receptive, enthusiastic, collaborative, and eager to dive head first into a huge amount of research. It was a steep learning curve for both of us!
What has been the most challenging aspect of bringing Muscovado to life?
Well, this is my first real experience with new writing. Up to now I’ve mainly directedShakespeare. Just the fact of starting with nothing but a shoe box of papers and having to turn this into a full length play is a challenge! But we worked with fantastic actors, historians and dramaturgs during the development period, including Steve Martin who is one of England foremost experts on Britain’s links to the slave trade. We were also lucky enough to present some of the scene early on at the Victoria & Albert Museum which was an amazing experience! Early R&D workshops were very exciting, with characters appearing fully formed out of improvisations.
As a director what is the best approach you take to working with your actors?
I just like to get stuck into the text. I do some background character work at the beginning, to make sure we are all on the same page about where the character has come from. Once we’re in the rehearsal room, I want to know where the character is going, what they want in each scene, and what they do to get it. The audience just want to know what happens next; it’s our job to make sure we tell the story. That’s it!
Have you always wanted to create theatre?
Yes, I can’t stop! Believe me, I have tried…
I have always put on plays, through school and university. I’ve also tried to streamline and specialise into just directing, or just acting, or just producing. But I love the whole process. My brother is the musical director for BurntOut, and he composes all the music for the shows. We are constantly thinking of new ideas, future projects, new ways to tell stories with live music. The combination of drama and theatre is so powerful, and when you get a script like Matilda’s, it’s a dream.
What has been the biggest lesson you’ve learned so far?
Wow, there have been so many. But I think it’s something Matilda taught me; that you can’t hold on to a play, particularly a brand new one. It may come into your hands for a time, while you develop it, or direct it, or bring it to audiences. But once you’ve done your job, the play no longer belongs to you. The story goes out into the world for the audience to make what they like of it. It’s like having a baby and letting it make it’s own way and have it’s own life.
Is it hard to let go of a production or do you continue to think of things or choices you might have made differently?
Yes, you can go on and on forever worrying about tiny details. There are so many elements in live theatre, that a show can never never be ‘perfect’. But the main thing is that the audience enjoy it and take something from it. They won’t notice small things going wrong or think of things being missing. The cardinal sin is to tell audiences after the show that something was wrong, or that so-and-so show was better. If they liked it, just smile, nod and say thank you very much!
What has been the best advice you’ve been given?
To be in the moment. This is difficult and I’m always working on it. It’s especially hard when producing or programming, as you are always working on shows up to a year in advance. But when you are in the rehearsal room, or on stage, or watching theatre, there is nothing but now. And if you are somewhere else, then you will miss being here.
Do you have a favourite theatre quote?
Character is action. Not sure who said it, but it applies to a lot of things!
And finally what do you hope people will take away from ‘Muscovado’?
I hope they will come to love the characters. This play isn’t really ‘about slavery’; thats just the situation the characters happen to find themselves in. Instead, it’s a story about a group of people, in a very specific time, place and moment in history, and what they do and how they act. Humans always manage to survive, and find beauty and love in terrible, seemingly hopeless situations.
Audiences may learn something about life on sugar plantations and about Barbados at this time. But I hope they’ll be gripped by the story, and moved by the people.
Muscovado is performed against the backdrop of an original musical score by composer James Reynolds, sung live by the cast and choral singers. Click on these links to hear a few snippets of the music featured in Muscovado: Credo in Unum Deo Muscovado Mass Lay Down by the Riverside
Matilda Ibini is a playwright, and trained on the Royal Court, Arcola and Soho Theatre’s Young Writers Programmes. She has recently been chosen as the youngest winner of the BBCs Writersroom 10 Award, and will be playwright in residence at the Soho Theatre for the next year. She is about to start an MA in Writing for Film, TV and Theatre, and won a Prince William scholarship from BAFTA and Warner brothers to complete the training.
Writer’s note, by Matilda Ibini I was interested in this project because as with any opportunity with new writing, it allows you to create an original play whether it be inspired by historical events or things that have happened in my own life and discovering the human experiences in stories that link us all. The play is set between the abolition of the slave trade act and the abolition of slavery. The story takes place on a sugar plantation in Barbados during the 1800’s. Themes of the play include generational slavery, relationships, identity and women’s roles during that period. The abolition of the slave trade felt like hollow promises to slaves, as the passing of the act and its intention didn’t quite reach those who needed it most. The play explores the tragedy of knowing freedom but never experiencing it and the blissful ignorance some slaves lived in just to survive. I hope to tell a story that places another angle on what everyone thinks they know about slavery. Matilda Ibini
Cast:DK Fashola Alex Kiffin Sophia Mackay Adam Morris Clemmie Reynolds James Reynolds
CAST for Muscovado includes:
Alexander Kiffin began his training at Guildford School Of Acting, and graduated in 2012. Since then Alex has gone on to do various theatre production especially critically acclaimed ‘STREETS’. Which was nominated for two Offies awards. Alex has also appeared in ‘Javeon Mccarthy’ and ‘Skepta’ music videos. Alex will be appearing in ‘ZARA’S CASKET’ at the Paddington Arts Centre between 21st – 22nd November.
Damilola K Fashola
New Heritage Theatre: Scratch Night Winner (2014), Royal Court Young Writers Alumni and 30 Nigeria House Award Winner with Theatre Royal Stratford East.Theatre Includes: Lie With Me (Embassy Theatre) Muscovado (Victoria & Albert Museum), For Coloured Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When The Rainbow Is Enuf (SOAS) & Our Husband has gone Mad Again (Flash Musicals Theatre). Fashola studied at East 15 (CertHE) and founded Silhouettez In The Dark Theatre Collective, who have performed both internationally & locally; Madame Jojo’s, The Albany & Bull Theatre, Hertfordshire University, The Stephen Lawrence Centre & Royal Festival Hall. Fashola appears as a soloist dancer, in Sony USA artist; Tiwa Savage’s emotive video ‘Olorun Mi.’ www.dkfash.com |firstname.lastname@example.org
Acting credits include: Jamie, The Last Five Years (Jason Robert Brown); Card Sharp, Edmund (David Mamet); Nark, Jackajack (Hal Chambers, TuckedIn Productions); Charles J. Guiteau, Assassins (Stephen Sondheim); Puck, A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Shakespeare); Brian, A Day In The Death Of Joe Egg (Peter Nichols); and Larry in Closer (Patrick Marber). Directing credits include: William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (The Courtyard Theatre, August-September 2014); his play HIDDEN: The FCO Plays (Barons Court Theatre, June 2014); Dinner by Moira Buffini (Barons Court Theatre, April 2013); and The London Cuckolds by Edward Ravenscroft (as Assistant Director, The Pleasance, Islington, April 2013). Adam studied Music at the University of Birmingham where he majored in Conducting. Adam performs with Natalie Lipin as the jazz duo The Throwbacks and is Artistic Director for Rose Bridge Theatre Company.
Clemmie commissioned Matilda to write the play in September 2013, after finding a box of letters, family trees, diary entries and cuttings from Barbados in 1800s relating to her ancestors the Branch family. With these archives as a starting point, the bare bones of the play was initially developed through Research and Development workshops with actors and historians from December 2013 to June 2014; with expert on the slave trade Steve Martin as our historical mentor. In June we also held a scratch performance with Young Vic Theatre’s Directors Network, a rehearsed reading at Clapham Omnibus, and a short performance at the V&A, as part of ‘The Other Georgian Story’. Matilda has also spent the last year buried in books about the subject – and the culmination of all this is ‘Muscovado’…
The Play in Development: R&D Workshops December – March 2013/14 Photos by Jamie Christopher Merchant and Pieter Matheus Snyman Historian Steve Martin expert on Black History leads a discussion on 19th Century Slave Trade About Holy Trinity In October 2014 we premiered Muscovado as part of Black History Month at the historic Holy Trinity Church. Holy Trinity Clapham is most famously associated with William Wilberforce and the group of friends known to history as “the Clapham Sect” who campaigned for the abolition of the slave trade in 1807 A note from Canon David Isherwood Rector of Holy Trinity Clapham: “The Abolition of the Slave Trade Act of 1807 was an ethical, political and religious issue at a time when all three strands hardly saw each other’s light of day. For William Wilberforce and his colleagues, working together and harnessing the nation’s conscience in the Abolition cause was a crucial weapon in their armoury. This was not the campaign of a lone ranger but of one who joined up movements and passions in churches, neighbourhoods and the nation against an international crime. ‘I mean not to accuse any one, but to take the shame upon myself, in common, indeed, with the whole parliament of Great Britain, for having suffered this horrid trade to be carried on under their authority. We are all guilty – we ought all to plead guilty…’ said Wilberforce when he introduced the Bill in Parliament. Slavery and its legacies, was and is a disgrace and its stain on our common humanity lives with us today. I am therefore delighted that Holy Trinity Church Clapham has been invited to partner with Burnt Out Theatre Company in their production of a play for Black History Month. I expect it to serve us well in keeping alive a debate about probably one of history’s most callous and wicked crimes.” Canon David Isherwood Rector of Clapham eatre actors explore status and race
Barbados by Insight Guides Slave Young, Slave Long : The American Slave Experience by Meg Greene A history of Barbados by Ronald Tree Our Nig by Harriet E. Wilson Sugar in the blood by Andrea Stuart A Mercy by Toni Morrison American Gods by Neil Gaiman Sugar Barons by Matthew Parker Slave narrative of Mary Prince Slave narrative of Olaudah Equiano Several books by Hilary Beckles: Afro-Caribbean Women and Resistance to Slavery (1988) Natural Rebels: A social history of enslaved black women in Barbados (1989) Black Rebellion in Barbados (1987) White Servitude and Black Slavery in Barbados 1627-1715 (1989) Barry Higman: Slave Populations of the British Caribbean 1807-1834 (1995) The diary of Thomas Thistlewood (Jamaican overseer, but useful for insights into overseers) Jerome Handler: Plantation Slavery in Barbados (2000) – this is an archeological and investigation of Newton Plantation