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Posts Tagged ‘Edmund Kean’

What a terrific curtain-raiser to Indhu Rubasingham’s tenure as Artistic Director of the Tricycle Theatre. An excellent new play from comparative newcomer Lolita Chakrabarti with one of our greatest young actors, Adrian Lester (her husband!), leading an excellent  company in Rubasingham’s own masterly staging. A play about a man who played Othello 180 years ago performed by a man who will do so next year – delicious!

The play tells the story of black American actor Ira Aldridge’s experiences in London in 1833 as he takes over the lead in Othello due to Edmund Kean’s illness. It’s framed by scenes set in Lodz in Poland 34 years later that show him still working in Europe if not Britain. Slavery had just been abolished, which wasn’t entirely welcome and riots had broken out on the streets – so you can imagine what happened when a black actor took to the country’s greatest stage to play Shakespeare.

The play held me for every second of its running time. It was fascinating, shocking and totally captivating. Lester was simply wonderful (oh I am so excited about the real thing – with Rory Kinnear as Iago no less!) but the whole company was excellent, with Eugene O’Hare overcoming caricature as a passionate French theatre manager and Charlotte Lucas playing Ellen Tree playing Desdemona, both beautifully.

The experience of Aldridge was shocking and we gasped as the real and shamefully racist reviews of his opening night were read. The rest of the cast on either side of the stage watch intensely during the pivotal showdown between the actor and the theatre manager; we can see them but the performers can’t, in an inspired piece of staging. When he whites up for Macbeth at the end we’re shocked again. It’s all impeccably done, with lightness and economy and a lovely use of music. The building’s original proscenium arch has been gilted, distressed and integrated into Tom Piper’s clever design.

I’m sure this will be in my list of Best New Plays of 2012. Another triumph for the Tricycle as it looks back at its ground-breaking past under Nicholas Kent and its exciting future under Indhu Rubasingham. Miss at your peril.

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