I was pleased to read today that Adrian Lester and his wife, Lolita Chakrabarti, won Critic’s Circle Awards for their play Red Velvet, which was performed for the first time last year at my favourite off-West End theatre in London, The Tricycle. She wrote it, he starred
The play is about Ira Aldridge, a forgotten stage star from the 1830s who was an accomplished Shakespearan actor, especially popular in Prussia and Russia. Oh, and he was black. Lester captured Aldridge’s theatricality, vanity and vulnerability, alternating between an increasingly frail but fractious old man and a proud performer at the height of his popularity.
One of the things that struck me was that it appeared that to play the Shakespearan Kings, Aldridge whited up: at the end he prepares to go “on stage”, slowly donning his wig, white makeup and white gloves. I was instantly reminded of a similar scene from Wole Soyinka’s Death and the King’s Horseman at the National Theatre in 2009. There, the whiting up was subversive, mocking; here it was a majestic mask; but the imagery was striking in both plays.
From time to time, London life being what it is, I just can’t seem to organise an outing to the theatre with friends; no matter, I am perfectly happy to go by myself. The only drawback is, there’s no one to talk about it with afterwards! I went to see Red Velvet one chilly evening in November, unwilling to let the £10 early bird ticket offer pass me by. It was worth every penny.