What’s it all about?
There’s a good chance you have heard of Lolita Chakrabarti’s play already. One of the Tricycle Theatre’s greatest successes in recent years, it premiered at the Kilburn venue in 2012 and has since wowed New York, and for good reason. This is a truly exceptional story.
In 1833 Covent Garden, the streets outside the Theatre Royal Haymarket are full of people protesting the abolishment of slavery. Inside the theatre, the company of a (wonderfully hammy) production of Othello panic when their leading man is taken ill. In steps Ira Aldridge, a respected black American actor. But while the cast may be ready to boycott sugar in their tea for its links to slavery and inequality, sharing the stage with a black actor may just turn out to be one step too far.
Who’s in it?
Adrian Lester reprises his award-winning turn as Aldridge and it’s near impossible to imagine anyone else delivering the part with such gravitas, playfulness and heart-breaking vulnerability.
He is extraordinary as the actor who moves from hopeful humility to what appears to be gruff arrogance. It is only in the final scenes you discover the real reason for this personality shift, and Lester’s heart-rending performance is delivered with a steely dignity and power that leaves you gritting your teeth in anger, fighting – or, as in the case of the opening night audience, giving into it completely – a lump in your throat and likely jumping to your feet for the curtain call. Yep, it’s really that good, we promise.
Original cast members Charlotte Lucas and Simon Chandler are also back to join Lester and impress as the open minded but ultimately trapped actress Ellen and the contrastingly old-fashioned actor Bernard. Newcomer Amy Morgan, with her excellent comedy timing, also stands out as the gossipy, endearingly dim young actress Betty Lovell.
What should I look out for?
The many in jokes and references to Covent Garden, the West End and its audiences. With the play finally having found its place in the West End thanks to its part in the Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company, the writing is richer, funnier and more poignant as a result.
Indhu Rubasingham’s completely riveting directing. While it’s hard to tear your eyes from Lester, she ensures that the stage is always alive with movement and intrigue.
In a nutshell?
Exceptional writing, extraordinary performances and excellent staging. Red Velvet continues its triumphant reign with a well-deserved West End run.
What’s being said on Twitter?
— MissNoma (@MissDumezweni) February 2, 2016
— Jaygann Ayeh (@JaygannAyeh) February 2, 2016
Will I like it?
There are few plays you’d feel confident recommending to all, but this just might be one of them. Why? Because its staggering story, written impeccably by Chakrabarti, is not just compelling but truly important and deserves to be discovered by as wide an audience as possible.