Where to start? It is amazing how a play about the struggles against racial prejudices in the 19th century can also be terrifyingly current, how an out of date style of acting can be riveting and catching at the same time, how a play grips you with the first scene and doesn’t let you go until you leave the theatre. This is a must-see play that lives through a powerful script as well as incredibly talented actors, tightly choreographed moves in stark contrast to outbursts of passion and anger and the mesmerising play of lead Adrian Lester.
The play tells the story of Ira Aldridge, a young American actor who is brought into a performance of Othello to save the day when Edmund Kean, famous for his interpretation with black face, collapses on stage and clearly won’t be able to come back. Ira will not need black face. He is black. In 1830 this is still a birthmark that speaks of disadvantage and repression. of prejudice and hatred. When the highly talented Ira takes over the part and fuels it with a passion that is not well received in those days, the character he plays is immediately mixed with the man he is. After a couple of performances he is thrown out of London’s theatre world.
Decades later – and this is where the play starts – in a small town on the Czech/Austrian border Ira Aldridge, now an acclaimed and famous actor is bing interviewed by a young reporter – through her false presumptions and his hurt feelings we unravel the course of events all those years ago. And while he tells the story, Ira puts on his make-up to play another leader, another king in his own right. When all is said and done, he turns to the audience, his hair scraggly, his face white, an impressive King Lear, ready to go on stage with his “white face”.
I admit I gasped. it’s such a strong play, full of ressentiments and sarcastic one liners that show us how far we’ve come in our fight for equality, but also how far we still have to go until equal rights truly mean the same rights for everyone.
Add to that the marvellous talent of Lolita Chakrabarti and Adrian Lester – and it’s a perfect, food for thought theatre experience.
Plus; both are incredibly charming and laid back at the stage door and take their time for a little chat. Thank you for that!