I will happily admit I don’t know as much about acting as I might do about music but I can without a doubt say that Red Velvet at the Garrick Theatre is truly triumphant.
The story is inspiring as much as it is based on a true story. In 1833 Ira Aldridge is brought to London’s Covent Garden to replace Edmund Kean who had collapsed just days before and the theatre was in dire need of a leading actor to take on the role of Shakespeare’s Othello. Red Velvet is a play about acting and theatre in its purest forms but more so about racial issues in the 19th century that we, on the surface, seem to have overcome. However, looking at the nominations for this year’s Oscars the underlying racism may be still present but unlike in 1833 no one expresses it freely anymore. It seems appalling to think that at any point in time any human being was not looked upon as being equal to another simply due to the color of their skin. How ridiculous a concept, right? But in 19th century Britain this was very much an accepted form of human interaction as slave trade was still on a high and any human of a different skin color was looked upon as being inferior.
So when Ira Aldridge takes the stage in London, and in addition also suggests some new acting methods, it does not take long for the emotions to boil over. Adrian Lester also played Othello at The National Theatre threes years ago and with that the scene where Lester as Ira Alridge performs Act 3 Scene 4 of Shakespeare’s Othello as Othello adds a complexity and depth to the play.
In the final scene we are taken back to where the play began, giving it a wholesome feel. An elderly Alridge in his dressing room being interviewed by a Polish journalist. He prepares to play King Lear and his life seems to be floating before his eyes with every insult, every inch of doubt planted into his head the audience sees a picture painted of how he became the man we met in the opening scene, belittling the journalist for her poor research and ‘silly’ questions.