Red Velvet garnered rave reviews the first time it played at the Tricycle Theatre and quickly sold out leaving me only to wonder what I had missed. But nearly two years on and its back and so I headed to north west London, ticket clutched in my hand, full of anticipation.
Written by Lolita Chakrabarti, Red Velvet tells the true story of American Ira Aldridge, who in 1833 was the first black actor to grace the stage at a patent theatre in Covent Garden. He played the role of Othello for two nights when popular actor Edmund Kean was taken gravely ill. At the time the repeal slavery laws were sparking riots in the street and dividing opinion about the threat to economic prosperity, human rights and equality.
At the start of the play we meet an old Ira who is still performing in New York. Through the contrivance of a junior reporter who has snuck into his dressing room in order to interview him we learn of his success as an actor performing all over Europe but the question over his two performances in Covent Garden hangs in the air.
Red Velvet turns out to be an emotionally gripping story of prejudice and racism but it also a fascinating look at theatre and acting at the time. Aldridge's style of performance contrasts with his English cast members leading them to debate the purpose of their art and what is and isn't acceptable.