Red Velvet

Previewed 23 January 2016, Opened 1 February 2016, Closed 27 February 2016 at the Garrick Theatre in London

The Tricycle Theatre in partnership with the Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company present a major production of Lolita Chakrabarti's Red Velvet in London starring Adrian Lester.

Edmund Kean, the greatest actor of his generation, has collapsed on stage at the Theatre Royal Covent Garden in 1883 whilst playing Othello. A young black American actor, Ira Aldridge, 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?

Lolita Chakrabarti's play - originally seen at the Tricycle Theatre in North West London and St Ann's Warehouse in New York - is based on the true story of Ira Aldridge. Adrian Lester reprises his role as Ira Aldridge. Directed by Indhu Rubasingha. Adrian Lester's West End theatre credits include the role of 'Brick' in Debbie Allen's revival of Tennessee Williams' Cat on a Hot Tin Roof opposite James Earl Jones and Phylicia Rashad as 'Big Daddy' and 'Big Mama' (Novello Theatre 2009).

When this production opened here at the Garrick Theatre in February 2016, Dominic Cavendish in The Daily Telegraph praised it as being "smartly paced and attractively presented by Indhu Rubasingham, it's informative, entertaining, thought-provoking and beautifully played... this is a highly recommended foray into a murky, neglected chapter of our theatrical and national history." Neil Norman in The Daily Express described how "the second half is far better with a steely focus on brilliant debates between Aldridge and his French producer Pierre Laporte though the analogy with women's rights seems tacked on. Adrian Lester is fantastic as is the fine cast. A good play but with a surfeit of right on-ness." Ian Shuttleworth in The Financial Times noted "Adrian Lester's towering performance at its centre." Ann Treneman in The Times wrote: "This play gives us history ó but do not go because of that. That makes it sound so po-faced and worthy that I can feel a yawn overpowering me. Go because Adrian Lester is brilliant in this role... It is also easy to watch: two one-hour acts divided by an interval, and lagging only occasionally thanks to good pacing by the director Indhu Rubasingham. The set, by Tom Piper, with its dark woods and sparse furnishings, is austere but elegant." Henry Hitchings in The London Evening Standard highlighted how Adrian Lester gives "a performance of eloquent intensity ó noble and detailed but with fire at its core... More than three years after an acclaimed premiere at Kilburnís Tricycle Theatre, Indhu Rubasinghamís warm production gets a well-deserved run in the West End." Patrick Marmion in The Daily Mail commented that "it's always good to be assured of what you ardently believe. In this case, Victorian racism condemned from the lofty perch of modern enlightenment... There is, however, not a lot more to this rather slight play than indignation fuelled by the benefit of 183 years of hindsight... Indhu Rubasingham directs with subtlety, but itís Adrian Lester who holds the show together, laying modern naturalism over Iraís amusing Victorian histrionics." Michael Billington in The The Guardian hailed "Adrian Lesterís magnificent acting," explaining that "while the play has pertinent things to say about the virus of racial prejudice, it is Adrian Lesterís performance that gives it a sense of grandeur."

"Indhu Rubasingham's original staging of Lolita Chakrabarti's punchy Red Velvet, the story of Aldridge's appearance for just two nights as Shakespeare's murderous Moor, starred Adrian Lester and kicked off her tenure at the Tricycle Theatre in Kilburn in 2012. Showered with awards, it transferred to New York. Slightly recast, her cracking production has now been revived for Kenneth Branagh's season at the Garrick Theatre... A magnificent Lester pulls off several remarkable transformations: first from dashing, daring, openhearted youth to broken, bitter old age. Even more startling is when, in the final scene, Aldridge whites-up and becomes a frail, yet imposing, maddened and mad Lear, every inch Shakespeare's king. Presumably a lucky director has already signed him up. I can't wait." The Mail on Sunday

"For much of its length, Red Velvet is more successful as an act of reclamation than as drama... Indhu Rubasingham's production extracts much (at times too much) humour from the outmoded acting style. The play finally catches fire when Adrian Lester's superlative Aldridge both protests against his dismissal from the company and pleads for his reinstatement. His humiliation at the hands of the critics is almost as painful as Othello's deception by Iago." The Sunday Express

"Adrian Lester commands the stage in this play based on Ira Aldridge, the first black actor to appear on the London stage. Set in 1830s England when the abolition of slavery was being fought, the play tells how the establishment refused to allow Aldridge to succeed... Lester, a familiar face from his TV roles, plays the tortured and shunned actor with tenderness while Emun Elliott as the theatre manager gives great support alongside Mark Edel-Hunt's prejudiced co-star." The Sunday Mirror

"When black actor Ira Aldridge played Othello at the Garrick in 1833, the reviews mercilessly attacked him for his ethnicity. One of the great things about Lolita Chakrabarti's play about Aldridge, starring her husband and Hustle star Adrian Lester, is it refuses to consign this period to history. Red Velvet is a play about the theatre. Indhu Rubasingham's atmospheric production has matured since it was first seen at the Tricycle Theatre in 2012. It's in the West End courtesy of Kenneth Branagh's current season at, aptly enough, the Garrick. Lester is commanding as Aldridge - oozing arrogance, talent and cheeky humour as he prepares to play Othello in a London divided by the abolition of slavery. The romantic style of acting favoured by Aldridge is in contrast to his contemporary Edmund Kean's ostentatious gestures. That this should be used against him in the showdown between Aldridge and theatre manager Pierre Laporte is just one of the uncomfortable little mirrors the play holds up to its modern audience." The London Metro

Red Velvet in London at the Garrick Theatre previewed from 23 January 2016, opened on 1 February 2016 and closed on 27 February 2016.