Reviewed on Tuesday 2nd February 2016
Having premiered at the Tricycle Theatre in 2012, Lolita Chakrabarti's debut play Red Velvet has arrived in the West End as part of the Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company's Plays At The Garrick season.
A backstage drama exploring the life of 19th century actor Ira Aldridge, Indhu Rubasingham's swish production - which received a run in New York two years ago - takes the audience through quite a journey, one minute I was laughing and the next I was muttering 'oh my goodness' under my breath in pure shock. Rubasingham masters the tone - I was certainly kept on my toes.
The story, which presents imagined experiences based on truth, sees a production of Othello thrown into turmoil after acclaimed actor Edmund Kean collapses on stage whilst playing the title role. Ira Aldridge - a black American actor - is brought in to save the show at the last minute. At a time when the public are rioting over the abolition of slavery, the piece delves into the way in which Ira's fellow company members, as well as the audience and critics, respond to a theatrical revolution.
Adrian Lester has reprised his performance as Ira Aldridge; the passion and fire in his eyes is quite something, I imagine certain moments would have been even more striking in the intimacy of the Tricycle Theatre. Lester's portrayal is well-rounded and dignified with many audience members jumping to their feet as he took his solo bow at the end of the night.
Although a couple of scenes feel slow during the first act, the second half is intense and surprising - a couple of scenes (which I shall not spoil) have tremendous impact. With a swish design by Tom Piper and a strong supporting cast, Chakrabarti's play tells a very important story with elements of which still feel relevant today.
Reviewed by Andrew Tomlins (Editor)
Red Velvet runs at the Garrick Theatre until 27th February 2016.
Please visit www.branaghtheatre.com for further information and tickets.
Photo Credit: Johan Persson