Red Velvet at The Tricycle Theatre is a beautifully scripted, wonderfully acted and makes for theatre at its very best. In part witty and always insightful, the play centres on the life of the 19th Century black American actor Ira Aldridge who travelled from his native New York to Europe to ply his trade.
The 1830s was, however, a time when the trade that UK society most associated with black people was slavery. Parliament’s abolition of slavery in 1833 was a divisive issue as it threatened an empire built on other people’s cheap labour. The West End appearance of a black actor playing Othello and embracing Desdemona on a public stage was all too much for the conservative elements of white society to bear. The production, though sold out, lasted less than a week.
The absurdity of the issue as seen through a liberal 21st Century lens is a source of humour (as is the glorious ham-acting of the time), whilst the deeply troubling prejudice inherent in racism drives the drama. Lolita Chakrabarti, winner of the Evening Standard Most Promising Playwright award for Red Velvet, strikes the perfect balance between mirth and outrage.
Adrian Lester, fresh from his own award winning portrayal of Othello at The National Theatre, is superb as Ira Aldridge whose self-pride, whilst deserved, proves a further cause of isolation and alienation. The cast is universally strong, highlights too many to mention, and the piece is superbly directed by Indhu Rubasingham.
Transferring next month to New York, Prestat is thrilled to award the play a perfect 100 of our own Red Velvet Truffles and an additional 67 Pink Marc de Champagne Truffles for making my mother happy.