Saturday 16th June 2018, matinée
We have never been to Wilton’s Music Hall before but a fleeting visit from Paterson Joseph with his one-man show ‘Sancho – An Act of Remembrance’ briefly made this a must-visit venue for us. According to the website, It is the oldest grand music hall in the world. Not so sure about the grand bit, but it we would certainly agree that is it a little gem and the management clearly have very good taste.
We have always enjoyed Paterson Joseph’s performances and his all too rare appearances on stage. Here he is disarmingly honest, beginning the show as ‘himself’, and confessing that as a black actor he had always watched with envy as his fellow drama school graduates would snap up the choice roles in costume drama, whilst his opportunities seemed severely limited. This doesn’t prevent him from treating us to a few lines as Sir Peter Teazle from ‘School for Scandal’ and making us wonder what might have been (or might be!) He explains that he had always been told that costume drama would be a limited option for him because there were no black people in England before the 20th century. And then he saw a portrait by Gainsborough which changed everything. Yes, he would have to write the play himself of course, but here at last was a historical character he could get his teeth into.
This is the story of Ignatius Sancho, writer, composer and actor, and the first black man to vote in British Parliamentary elections. If the title of the play sounds like it might be a little bit worthy, it isn’t. The play has gravitas, but this is an immersion into the life of the man which gives us everything – silliness, pomposity, humour, intelligence, tragedy and loyalty. Joseph’s writing is full of literary flourishes and flights of fancy, and his performance had us convinced that this was a figure from history you would definitely want to spend more time with. We get a sense of joy and exuberance which must have poured out of a man who grew desperate for an education, and when he got it, sucked every last drop of flavour out of it. Joseph has magnetic charm, intense wit and dark humour always bubbling under the surface and he uses it to great effect here. This was the London premier of a show that he as been touring extensively, and we hope this is not the last we’ll see of Sancho. He certainly gets our vote.