Since their season announcement, I’ve been looking forward to seeing Red Velvet at Crow’s Theatre and it certainly did not disappoint. Written by Lolita Chakrabarti and directed by Cherissa Richards, Red Velvet looks at the astounding career of Ira Aldridge, the first Black man to play Othello in London. Featuring an absolutely stellar cast, Red Velvet is a must-see this season.
I thoroughly enjoyed Chakrabarti’s writing and how she explored the theatre of the Victorian period through this play. The characters argue about acting styles and explore new things, mirroring the changes that are happening societally outside their door. I absolutely loved the line from Aldridge to Charles Kean, son of the great Edmund Kean, that “lightning doesn’t strike twice.” It was such a beautifully pointed insult considering Edmund Kean’s acting was described as “reading Shakespeare by flashes of lighting.” Paired with Richards’ brilliant direction, this play is a poignant, intelligent, moving piece of theatre that’s accessible to newcomers and theatre buffs alike.
Red Velvet features a stunning cast with Allan Louis starring as Ira Aldridge. His presence onstage is unmatched; he absolutely demands your attention the moment he enters. Kyle Blair plays producer Pierre Laporte. Blair brings a delightful flair to the character that made him so empathetic, no matter the situation. The scene in Act Two between Louis and Blair is some of the finest acting I’ve seen in quite some time; the tension was palpable, you got the feeling that there were stakes we weren’t even aware of at play, and the two of them used each other’s energy so perfectly. Ellen Denny, Patric McManus, Amelia Sargisson, Nathan Howe and Jeff Lillico round out the company at the Theatre Royal Covent Garden; each one of them brings a unique and beautiful take to their characters; it’s a great joy to watch as they’re playing real people and I thought they showed the many sides of each of them. Starr Domingue plays Connie, who works at the theatre; her tranquil presence amongst the constant chaos of the actors was impressive. But Connie also serves as a reminder to Aldridge about where he came from and how very differently his life could have turned out. I could not have imagined a more talented, vibrant, or impeccable cast to bring these historical figures to life.
My Shakespeare professor has a picture of Ira Aldridge on the door to his office. When he taught me Othello he taught about Aldridge and the incredible mark he left on theatre, particularly in the realm of Shakespeare’s works. I remember feeling baffled that it had taken over 200 years to have a Black actor play the Moor, but was thankful that it helped solidify the career of such an important actor. I cannot recommend Red Velvet enough, it’s certainly a stand-out production in my books!
Red Velvet runs until December 18th, so get your tickets ASAP. You do not want to miss out on this fantastic piece of theatre. For more info and tickets visit: Red Velvet – Crow’s Theatre (crowstheatre.com)
(l to r) Ellen Denny and Allan Louis (foreground), Patrick McManus, NathanHowe, Amelia Sargisson, Starr Domingue, Jeff Lillico, Kyle Blair. Photo by John Lauener.