Get our free email newsletter with just one click

Red Velvet review at Garrick Theatre, London – ‘weight and dignity’

Adrian Lester in Red Velvet at the Garrick Theatre. Photo: Tristram Kenton

Hot on the heels, so to speak, of Mr Foote’s Other Leg – and just ahead of the West End transfer of Nell Gwynn — comes yet another backstage drama based on theatre history with this revival of Lolita Chakrabarti’s debut play about the life of the 19th century actor Ira Aldridge.

Premiering at the Tricycle in 2012 – as part of director Indhu Rubasingham’s inaugural season – it’s a good fit for the Branagh Company’s residency at the Garrick. Branagh opened with Terence Rattigan’s play about theatrical life, Harlequinade, and later in the year will also star in John Osborne’s The Entertainer, taking on the role originated by Laurence Olivier, himself one of the most famous of all 20th-century Othellos.

Aldridge was the first black actor to play the role on the London stage and the American performer’s race and origins initially rattled audiences, critics and his fellow company members.

Adrian Lester – who also tackled the role of Othello at the National in 2013 – plays Aldridge with weight, gravity and immense dignity. It’s a story full of reverberations. Theatre history never exists in isolation, and indeed Lester — who, in his career, has also played Hamlet for Peter Brook and Henry V at the National — is a beneficiary of battles like the one shown here, and of the legacy of performers like Aldridge who paved the way.

Chunks of the play are lifted verbatim from Shakespeare and Rubasingham’s production is full of affectionate demonstrations of the acting styles of the day. But there are some supporting performances here which are a little over-ripe and over-projected even in this context – even when they are supposed to be playing real people and not actors in a play.

We need your help…

When you subscribe to The Stage, you’re investing in our journalism. And our journalism is invested in supporting theatre and the performing arts.

The Stage is a family business, operated by the same family since we were founded in 1880. We do not receive government funding. We are not owned by a large corporation. Our editorial is not dictated by ticket sales.

We are fully independent, but this means we rely on revenue from readers to survive.

Help us continue to report on great work across the UK, champion new talent and keep up our investigative journalism that holds the powerful to account. Your subscription helps ensure our journalism can continue.

Subscribers to The Stage get 10% off The Stage Tickets’ price
Adrian Lester reprises his award-winning performance, bringing an intriguing chapter of theatre history to life