New play to give Ira Aldridge his rightful place in history


11 October 2012

Lolita Chakarabarti’s new play, Red Velvet, about 19th century actor Ira Aldridge, will help to give the acclaimed figure “his rightful place in British history,” says Stephen Howes, the art enthusiast who recently discovered an 1820s oil painting of the historical performer in his late mother’s garage.

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“Ira Aldridge has justifiably been named as one of the ‘100 greatest black Britons’, yet he’s still very much under the radar in the modern public consciousness. I’m confident that this highly-anticipated new production, starring Adrian Lester, together with the discovery of the Aldridge painting will reignite interest in this trailblazing character,” explains Howes.

The unsigned and untitled 40 x 60 cm oil painting was found by Birmingham-born Howes in a tea-chest as he was clearing his mother’s property.

Experts have since declared the work as “a significant document of black history,” with art historian, Michelle Linger, saying recently: “It is very rare to find contemporary [19th century] paintings of black performers – and particularly of this quality. It’s an important discovery.”

Stephen Howes concludes: “With this hidden-away painting coming to light and the Red Velvet opening imminently at the Tricycle Theatre, Ira Aldridge will hopefully be given his rightful place in British history.

“As one leading journalist recently noted, it seems that Aldridge’s ‘spirit is surfacing’. And how fitting for this to be happening for one of Britain’s truly pioneering black personalities during Black History Month. He’d surely approve.”

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