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Royal Exchange cancels Red Velvet


African American actor, Ira Aldridge and right, playwright Lolita Chakrabarti
African American actor, Ira Aldridge and right, playwright Lolita Chakrabarti

Manchester's Royal Exchange Theatre has cancelled its forthcoming production of drama Red Velvet, about 19th Century African-American actor Ira Aldridge.

The theatre says the cancellation of the run, expected from May 27-June 25, is "due to illness", though the long period pre-cancellation seems to rule out anything Covid-related.

"It has been incredibly difficult to come to this complex decision, but the health and wellbeing of our teams and company is paramount," the theatre announced.

"We are in the process of planning new activity for the summer months and are looking forward to an exciting and vibrant autumn season."

Anyone with tickets for the show will be contacted about exchanges or refunds.

Red Velvet tells the extraordinary story of actor Aldridge, who stood in as Othello when legendary actor Edmund Kean became ill during the Theatre Royal, London, run of Shakespeare's masterpiece in 1833.

The characterisation was radical in two ways: Aldridge was a black actor playing a black character, and his technique was far more naturalistic than the traditional, declamatory style of his theatre peers. His performance produced acclaim and great criticism in equal measure. The play explores the social repercussions of Aldridge's performance.

Lolita Chakrabarti - an actress and the award-winning adapter of the stage version of Booker-winning novel The Life of Pi – wrote Red Velvet in 2012 and has since seen it produced in several countries.

The Manchester production was to have been dire ted by the theatre's joint artistic director, Roy Alexander Weise.