Ira Aldridge to be honoured with blue plaque in Coventry
Britain’s first black theatre manager will be commemorated with a blue plaque at the site of the theatre he once ran in Coventry.
Ira Aldridge, who was also the first black actor to play Othello and whose life is dramatised in the play Red Velvet, will be commemorated at an event on August 3, when the plaque will be unveiled.
The blue plaque is the result of a campaign to recognise Aldridge’s contribution to theatre and to the city, with support from the Belgrade Theatre Coventry and Warwick University.
Aldridge, who died 150 years ago this year, became manager of Coventry Theatre in 1828 and was the first black person to run a British theatre. Born in America, he came to England to escape slavery, where as an actor his performances and the plays he presented contributed to the British Parliament abolishing slavery.
Aldridge’s life is the subject of Red Velvet, by Lolita Chakrabarti, which starred Adrian Lester when it ran at the Tricycle Theatre and later in the West End.
Chakrabarti said that to see Aldridge get the recognition of a blue plaque was “unbelievably gratifying”.
Lester added: “This is a fitting and just tribute to an incredible talent. For Ira to have achieved so much at a time when society thought so little, is a testament to his tenacity and hard work.”
The plaque will be unveiled on the site of the former Coventry Theatre in the city centre, at an event on August 3. The guest of honour will be Bermudan actor Earl Cameron.
Cameron was trained by Aldridge’s daughter Amanda and has been part of the campaign to honour him.
He said: “[Aldridge] made history. He’s incredibly important. Strangely, he’s much better known in America, especially among African Americans, where so many have been inspired by him. But he was never received properly in this country.”
Tony Howard, who led the campaign and is also behind Warwick University’s Multicultural Shakespeare project, said he hoped the plaque would be a reminder of the city’s openness to “foreigners and strangers”, as Aldridge described himself in a famous letter to the people of Coventry.
English Heritage’s blue plaque scheme – which runs only in London – marked the house in which Aldridge lived for some time in south-east London, however this is the first to celebrate his contribution as a theatre manager.