Play of the Week: Red Velvet, Tricycle Theatre, London NW6


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The Independent Culture

Indhu Rubasingham kicks off her tenure as the Tricycle's artistic director with a fascinating play by Lolita Chakrabarti. The piece begins and ends in a theatrical dressing room, where the pioneering real-life African-American actor, Ira Aldridge (1807-67), is preparing to play King Lear in the last year of his life.

Adrian Lester has broken the mould in roles that Aldridge did not get a stab at, so he proves to be perfect casting, conveying the thespian's authority and disillusion in the outer episodes, and the passion of the 26-year-old we see in the flashback to London, 1833.

When the tragedian Edmund Kean collapses while playing Othello in London, Aldridge is drafted in as replacement. From the amazement of the cast to the racist reviews, what should have been a breakthrough for him becomes a setback.

Lester's Aldridge is wonderfully stirring as he tries to infuse real life into "the teapot school of acting" that passes for performance among the Covent Garden cast.

(020 7328 1000; to 24 Nov