Red Velvet, Garrick Theatre, review: ‘Fantastic and disturbing’

Adrian Lester in Red Velvet. Picture: Johan Personn.

Adrian Lester in Red Velvet. Picture: Johan Personn. - Credit: Archant

Adrian Lester is as impressive as ever in this story of the first black actor to play Othello, says Emily govan.

Red Velvet premiered at the Tricycle Theatre and now returns to the West End, again under Indhu Rubasingham’s direction.

The star role remains that of Olivier Award-winner Adrian Lester, and he is no less impressive than before.

The setting is the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden, in 1833. Edmund Kean, the greatest actor of his generation, has collapsed on stage whilst playing Othello. A young black American actor has been asked to take over the role. But as the public riot in the streets over the abolition of slavery, how will the cast, critics and audience react to the revolution taking place in the theatre?

Lester is undoubtedly the shining light of the show as Aldridge, who was known as a brave, tenacious and uncompromising talent eager to introduce more naturalism to the rather mannered acting style of the day.

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The first part of the play focuses on Aldridge’s struggles with these dated techniques compared with his uncompromising and modern stance, causing laughs aplenty. We also take in the bemusement, shock and non-acceptance of Aldridge’s new theatrical colleagues. The second half takes a darker turn with a more sobering look at the politics and race issues of the time; culminating in a disturbing scene as Aldridge, interviewed by a young female journalist in his declining years, looks back on a career that was stymied by his skin colour. Whether delivering Shakespeare’s lines as Othello or playing the maligned Aldridge he transports the audience through the joy, anger, frustration and cynicism of a man born into the wrong time.

Tickets for this fantastic show will be like gold dust as it only runs until the end of the month. Not to be missed!

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Rating: 5/5 stars

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