Quincy Armorer
Photo: Moonrider Productions



The Arts Club Theatre Company

Red Velvet

When & Where March 21 - April 21, 2024, evenings Tue – Thu at 7:30pm, Fri & Sat at 8pm, matinees on Wed at 1:30pm and Sat & Sun at 2pm | Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage, 2750 Granville Street, Vancouver.

Director Omari Newton Set Design Amir Ofek Costume Design CS Fergusson-VauxSound Designer Owen Belton Lighting Design Jonathan Kim Sound Design Owen Belton Fight Director Jonathan Hawley Purvis Stage Manager Pamela Jakobs

Reviewer John Anthony Jane

In British playwright Lolita Chakrabarti’s speculative drama Red Velvet, this Arts Club Theatre production requires the proficient execution of two common theatrical devices: a play within a play, where the audience is privy to rehearsal room conversations between actors playing actors, and the flashback that allows the storytelling to shift across time and place.

Chakrabarti’s historical pièce de théâtre centres on black American actor Ira Aldridge and his radical (at the time) casting in the role of Othello at the famous Theatre Royal in London, following the physical collapse of celebrated Shakespearean stage actor Edmond Kean. Hitherto, and alas, many times since, white actors had performed the role with blackface makeup, despite Shakespeare’s Othello being a Christian Moor.

The play opens with a theatrical prologue – a flash-forward thirty years after the watershed event. A journalist and a stage-hand chatter in easy to understand German in a backstage theatre setting somewhere in Europe. When Aldridge arrives, we see a distinguished looking 60-year-old man who appears to owe nothing to anyone, but with a readily curmudgeon aspect to his personality. His ire is drawn when the journalist’s line of questions reminds him of his painful experience playing Othello in 1833 London – which embodies the central action of the play.

Quincy Armorer delivers a tour-de-force performance as Ira Aldridge who anchors an accomplished cast under the very capable direction Omari Newton. Lindsey Angell plays apprentice actor Ellen Tree (who later became Ellen Kean in real life?), whose Desdemona is an excellent foil to Aldridge’s Othello – both on stage and in reheasal. Sebastien Archibald is delightfully entitled as Charles Kean who even appears to take on some Iago’s traits.

Tess Degenstein displays her versatility in a range of accents across Polish journalist Halina Wozniak, Betty and Ira’s Yorkshire-born wife Margaret. John Emmet Tracy deserves a special kudo for the difficult role as theatre manager Laporte. His initial stance as Aldridge’s ally and later his adversary requires a nuanced performance – although his quarrel and fight scene between the characters was overdone. The presence of Connie, the theatre’s Jamaican tea-lady is significant. Hers is a quiet omnipresence during the company’s squabbles, eventually having a telling interaction with Aldridge.

Amir Ofek’s sets with period-specific furniture create a mid-ninetieth century ambiance. CS Fergusson-Vaux’s elegant clothing that includes Lindsey Angell and Quincy Armorer theatre costumes raise the level of production quality.

Lolita Chakrabarti’s play is intended as a political observation. While Ira Aldridge’s short-lived Othello engagement was lauded by the theatre-going public, it was panned by the critics – based largely on racism. Aldridge’s pioneer role turned out not to be a groundbreaking success, but it should have been.

Red Velvet’s opening coincided with World Theatre Day (March 27), as artistic director Ashlie Corcoran reminded the audience in her introduction - certainly a good day to see an important play.

© 2024 John Anthony Jane