The Belgrade Theatre has teamed up with the University of Warwick’s Multicultural Shakespeare Project and The Coventry City of Culture Bid 2021 to present an event honouring the remarkable achievements of the African-American actor Ira Aldridge this November. He became Manager of the Coventry Theatre in 1828, at a time when slavery was still widespread across Britain’s colonies and the USA.
Against Prejudice – Ira Aldridge in Coventry 1828, will see an evening performance in the Belgrade’s B2 auditorium by a professional and community cast, followed by a night-time procession through the streets of Coventry. During this free evening event, the company will perform extracts from The Slave by Thomas Morton, one of several plays that Ira Aldridge programmed at the Coventry Theatre during his brief time as Manager there.
The procession will lead to the site of the long-lost playhouse where he and the local community made history, with scenes, speeches and songs from Aldridge’s Coventry season. There will also be talks from Professor Tony Howard, who has been a leading researcher on Ira Aldridge at the University of Warwick.
Professor Tony Howard explores the relationship between politics and Shakespeare in modern Britain and works with the University of Warwick’s Multicultural Shakespeare Project to gather information on the achievements of black and Asian artists.
He said, “It’s an astonishing story. Adrian Lester has just played Ira Aldridge in London and New York and reminded the world of the achievements of a very great actor. But the fact that at the age of only 20, Ira – young, gifted and black - was handed Coventry’s Theatre to run, is truly remarkable. He presented plays that attacked slavery and at the same time he raised the standards of a run-down company in crisis.”
Laura McMillan, Manager of the Coventry City of Culture Trust, added, “The story of Ira Aldridge is incredibly moving and is one of which Coventry should be extremely proud. His links to the city have been largely anonymous over the years so we are thrilled to be playing our part in commemorating the impact he had here and on a much wider scale.”
Ira Aldridge is also thought to be the first black actor to have played Othello in this country, in October 1825.
His performances divided audiences and aroused racist hostility. One campaigner threatened him with “damnation” and described his appearance as Othello as a “heinous offence.” Yet he was also heralded across Europe as one of the great Shakespeare actors of the 19th century influencing Stanislavsky’s theatre in Russia. The Public Ledger, reviewing his performance as Othello, called it “one of the finest physical representations of bodily anguish we have ever witnessed.”
The event is also part of Being Human, a festival of the Humanities and a national forum for public engagement with humanities research, led by the School of Advanced Study and University of London, in partnership with the Arts & Humanities Research Council. This year’s festival, themed around hope and fear, will feature a programme of debates, talks and activities including Against Prejudice – Ira Aldridge in Coventry 1828.
Against Prejudice – Ira Aldridge in Coventry 1828 will take place on Thurs 17 November. Tickets are FREE and must be booked in advance by calling the Belgrade’s Box Office team on 024 7655 3055 or visit www.belgrade.co.uk
Alex Buxton: Media Relations Manager, University of Warwick
Tel: 02476 150423
Mob: 07876 218166