Far from focusing exclusively on the subaltern, colonial subject, this volume addresses the Other in its wider meaning, focusing on case studies as famous as Edwin Forrest and Ira Aldridge or as neglected as that of the Māori who appeared on the London stage in the 1860s. Written by an international group of scholars, this collection offers an informed, updated insight into the extensive and multifaceted presence of the non-British in both Georgian and Victorian drama, investigated through new lenses and materials to shed light on the complex engagement of nineteenth-century British culture with alterity.
Sophie Duncan - A Progressive Othello: Modern Blackness in Chakrabarti’s Red Velvet (2012)
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A Progressive Othello: Modern Blackness in Chakrabarti’s Red Velvet (2012)
This essay examines Lolita Chakrabarti’s Red Velvet (2012), a theatrical biopic of Ira Aldridge (1807–1867), centring on his 1833 Othello. Combining close reading with reviews and evidence from the rehearsal room, I argue that Chakrabarti’s speculative restaging of Aldridge’s Othello associates nineteenth-century blackness not merely with the ‘exotic’, but also emphatically with the modern and progressive. This appears most clearly through Red Velvet’s metatheatrical exploration of embodied performance and the evolution of acting. Potentially ahistorically, Aldridge is presented as both Victorian (and thus stylistically ‘exotic’ and distant from today’s audiences) and as innovatively modern. It also manifests in the cognitive consequences of Adrian Lester’s casting as Aldridge. In 2012, Lester was simultaneously a celebrity and classical actor: an alumnus of the RSC, Peter Brook and Cheek by Jowl, he remained best-known for seven series of primetime BBC drama Hustle. Lester was also poised to play Othello in a high-profile, overtly modern National Theatre production, resituated in a contemporary overseas military operation (suggestive of Afghanistan). Finally, Red Velvet aligns Aldridge with multiple progressive figures marginalized by their radical identities and networks: racial, sexual, republican and international. The essay also considers Chakrabarti’s selection of historical material. The historical Aldridge was simultaneously self-exoticizing and assimilative, his self-promotional strategies including the stage name ‘Keene’ (homonymic for ‘Kean’), the creation of a highly sexualized, fetishistic aesthetic of skin colour in later Othellos,...
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