Theatre: Red Velvet

Theatre Royal, Covent Garden, 1833. Edmund Kean, the greatest actor of his generation, has collapsed on stage whilst playing Othello. A young black American actor 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? 

What struck me the most from this performance, based on a true story, were that some of the speeches in this play felt like they could have been written by the media today.  Some of the words used, such as minorities being referred to as ‘other’ definitely felt like it could still be representative of some people’s views today.  It’s awful that past discrimination can reflect on our present so well.

As Red Velvet is set on the stage it used some of the ‘play within a play’ style tropes we have become familiar with.  However as an ex-drama student, I can say that this melodramatic style of acting is very accurate to the time period.  It’s the kind of thing that makes audiences laugh today, and was performed as such, but that was just the norm back then.

Now, this particular performance was a bit unusual, not long into the performance some very loud static began to sound from the PA system.  It frightened people, because it did sound like the ceiling was cracking. Eventually, it got so loud that people started panicking and running from the theatre and the stage manager had to ask everyone to leave.  It wasn’t long before the technical issues were fixed and we were let back inside however, and the whole team dealt with it really well.

It was eventful that’s for sure, but the real reason I am telling you this is because I think it might have reduced some of the dramatic effect of the piece.  One of my main issues with this play was that it was lacking dramatic tension, but it’s possible that this might have been because of the interruption.  It’s hard to say, but I thought it was worth mentioning.

On the whole, the performances were OK.  Adrian Lester was a great Ira, but even here I was expecting something more.  There was an element of tension that felt was missing from this piece.   Not to say that this was a bad show, it just didn’t blow me away as I thought it would.  It’s a fiery subject, and this was missing it’s fire.


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