Skip to main content

Review of Red Velvet by University of Northampton BA Actors at Jacksons Lane Theatre, Highgate, London

Sometimes in theatre, whether you are in a big London venue, watching a big name star, or just watching a group of perfectly cast individuals, everything just feels right. Magic is happening. Without shooting the bolt of this review in the first paragraph, Red Velvet is that. Maybe the greatest moment of University of Northampton BA Acting history to date (that I have seen, and it's been quite a lot now). It all feels just right.

First and foremost, Lolita Chakrabarti's play is a classy piece of theatre, starting out with more than a hint of Ronald Harwood's The Dresser, before spiralling out into a period piece of racism and acceptance. It is just simply brilliant. At virtually two hours without an interval, it also never drags at any point. I said after that I had seen hour parts that had felt much longer, and it's true. When the lights fade at the end of the play, you don't feel you have been seated for that length of time.

So, much enthusing about the play itself then leads onto doing the same about the performances. All, even if not mentioned here, are brilliant. At the helm is the incredible Michael Gukas as Ira Aldridge, a black actor of the stage long, long before any acceptance of such a thing likely. There is no coincidence I think in the casting because I'll eat my hat if Mr Gukas doesn't also have stardom awaiting. Ira's arrival into a company of actors (mostly not accepting of) to take over from the ill Edmund Kean is received in a mixture of ways, and that is what drives the piece onwards from this point.

Elsewhere, Gukas is surrounded by superb performances, Ryan Greendale deals with the worst of the characters, Charles, he is the most repulsive of racist people and challenged also to deal with this person replacing his ill father as well. It's a tremendous performance from Greendale, that elicits no sympathy, but also somehow still seems to be not dislikable, simply because we as an audience try as we might to understand what is ingrained into his head. The time is the time, it cannot be changed, as to his character Charles, the black person must serve, like the quiet and obedient Connie does (an excellent calm performance by Shemelia Lewis).

Joseph Mattingley is at times equally repulsed by Ira's appearance as his character Bernard, but it is softer, nicely played, as a perfect bridge between the character of Charles, and the final male actor in the company Henry, the one male who knows the colour of Ira's skin before he arrives. As Henry, Harry Oliver is funny and interesting, the perfect, relatively quiet foil to the abusive and dominant Charles, and to a lesser extent Bernard.

Of the ladies of the company, the full of fun Betty is played with a vibrant nature by the excellent Franky Harris, a captivating presence on stage once again, although she has relatively little to do at times, she does it extremely well. Finally in the company of actors, is Hannah Magrath's Ellen, challenged with the key character of Desdemona to Ira's Othello. She falls for the charms of Ira, and her complicity to move into his understanding of making the performance more real, eventually leads to his downfall, and here Magrath is understated and believable in the delivery of Ellen, and the best performance I have seen from her to date.

Finally, from the cast, Tim Medcalf is a clear and concise Pierre, controller of the company and not swayed in what he wants by Charles. Medcalf's final scene with Gukas is a stunning piece of writing by Chakrabarti, and delivered with an incredible amount of skill by the two, leaving much thought beyond the final curtain.

I liked Red Velvet, a lot. It's a fantastic play, detailing a fascinating story, and even as a single piece of two hours, it clips along at pace. The whole group of actors are also at the top of their game, each getting all of their characters, and I don't doubt that director Lakesha Arie-Angelo has refined these in exquisite detail with the performers. Perhaps one of the very best of the University of Northampton shows I have seen really from my six years. Just simply superb.

Performance reviewed: Sunday 2nd June 2019 at Jacksons Lane Theatre, Highgate, London

Red Velvet was one of three shows performed at Jacksons Lane Theatre by the University Of Northampton BA (Hons) Actors from Friday 31st May to Sunday 2nd June 2019.

Details of Jacksons Lane can be found by visiting their website at

Popular posts from this blog

Review of Market Boy by The Royal & Derngate Actors Company at Royal & Derngate (Royal), Northampton

I have now written a little over two hundred and fifty reviews on this blog (yes I know, amazing. I am sorry). Most shows I have enjoyed, many I have given four star reviews, a good number have also got that lofty five stars from me. There is however hiding among them five star reviews, another tier of brilliance. One that lies in my head, where everything comes together to go beyond that five, but where I have nothing left to give. The play, the performances, the staging, and perhaps even more to elevate what is a personal opinion as a review, an actual personal emotional feeling or connection towards the piece.
Market Boy written by David Eldridge and performed by the Royal & Derngate Actors Company will (spoiler intended) receive five stars from me at the end of this review. However as that first paragraph suggests, this was one of those that went a little further for me. Set in what I happily claim as my decade and featuring throughout the music of that decade, which I claim …

Review of Benidorm Live at Milton Keynes Theatre, Milton Keynes

I arrived at Milton Keynes Theatre to see this touring stage version of ITV comedy hit Benidorm with a distinct lack of knowledge. Having never seen the show, my information stretched as far as knowing it was set in a holiday resort in Spain (the title helps there), and that the humour generally resorted to the cruder end of the spectrum. However, having graced the screens for ten years, it was clear that Derren Litten's show had garnered quite a following, and indeed it was clear from the reception of the audience on the night, that this following was pretty much filling the theatre.

The plot, such as it is for this stage show, is very much drafted from an episode of Fawlty Towers, and made a great deal more adult with its humour. The hotel manager, Joyce Temple-Savage (a sharp performance by Sherrie Hewson) gets wind that a hotel inspector is in, and the scene is set for seeking them out and all the obvious cases of mistaken identity. It's thin and doesn't fill the show,…

Review of Hacktivists by Ben Ockrent performed by R&D Youth Theatre at Royal & Derngate (Underground), Northampton

The National Theatres Connections series of plays had been one of my highlights of my trips to R&D during 2014. Their short and snappy single act style kept them all interesting and never overstaying their welcome. So I was more than ready for my first encounter with one of this years Connections plays ahead of the main week of performances at R&D later in the year.

Hacktivists is written by Ben Ockrent, whose slightly wacky but socially relevant play Breeders I had seen at St James Theatre last year. Hacktivists is less surreal, but does have a fair selection of what some people would call odd. Myself of the other hand would very much be home with them. So we are presented with thirteen nerdy "friends" who meet to hack, very much in what is termed the white hat variety. This being for good, as we join them they appear to have done very little more than hacked and created some LED light device.

Crashing in to spoil the party however comes Beth (Emma-Ann Cranston) and…