Stirring play marks anniversary
Ebony Box: Red Rose Chain, St. Mary's-at-the-Quay, Ipswich until November 25Red Rose Chain doffs its cap to the abolitionist Thomas Clarkson in Joanna Carrick's play by using two influential pieces of Clarkson's writings as launch pads.
Ebony Box: Red Rose Chain, St. Mary's-at-the-Quay, Ipswich until November 25
Red Rose Chain doffs its cap to the abolitionist Thomas Clarkson in Joanna Carrick's play by using two influential pieces of Clarkson's writings as launch pads. We follow the journey from one to the other
The first is the Latin essay written in 1780 at Cambridge, which was Clarkson' s personal starting point. It's theme - 'Is it lawful to make slaves of others against their will?' - affected him so deeply that he made abolition his life's work.
The second work is Clarkson's history of how the African slave trade developed and was abolished written amid the euphoria the 1807 achievement engendered.
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The play's much more than a linear account of slavery and its abolition. The script tumbles quickly and inventively from one scene to another, inviting and getting big performances from the three actors who between them play a panoply of characters
The ebony box itself is a clever conceit. One the one hand, it's Pandora's box containing all the evils of the world, but with Hope at the bottom, which is linked with Clarkson's return to the cause nine years after his breakdown. In theatrical terms, though, it's both a prop and a metaphor for the kind of show this is.
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It is an ensemble piece with an array of quick-change skills, music, smartly choreographed sequences and worked out improvisations. The performers pick up odd bits of costume from wherever for their many changes of identity.
The company's good at doing site-specific drama. Joanna Carrick, who also directs, makes the most of the wonderful little St Mary's-at-the Quay Church with its balcony and anti-room under the tower, its big acting area and - put in for the production - raked seating from where, as in the Commons chamber, Wilberforce delivers his parliamentary speeches.
As for the performers, Jimmy Grimes, an actor of range and a key part of the company for the last six years, takes Clarkson in his stride - full of passion, vigour, pain and physical presence. Josh Golding, an actor musician of versatility, changes his identity from violent villain to reformer in the bat of an eye. Milly Jupp, in her first professional production since leaving drama school, delights the audience with performances going from the soul of Africa troubling Clarkson consciousness, to cruelly victimised slave, to Wilberforce arguing the cause, Clarkson's wife, and to some wonderfully moving singing.
An entertaining, celebratory show - well worth seeing.