Sunday, May 20, 2018

The Guardian: Sancho play portrays slave who became first black British voter

Paterson Joseph
(Photo by Robert Day)

It began as a quixotic project three years ago in local theatre. Now the story of the man who was born on a slave ship and became the first black Briton to vote has taken on new urgency, post the Windrush scandal, as it opens at London’s Wilton’s Music Hall after a run in New York.

Paterson Joseph, a Royal Shakespeare Company actor and a familiar face in the TV series Casualty and Peep Show, wrote Sancho: An Act of Remembrance initially out of frustration, he says, at the lack of roles for black actors in period dramas. It has developed into something with much wider significance. And in the heat of the Windrush scandal, it’s become more poignant than ever before.

The play tells the story of Charles Ignatius Sancho, who was born on a slave ship bound for New Granada (modern-day Colombia). His mother died at his birth and his father killed himself shortly afterwards. For years, the young Sancho battled servitude and the prejudice of 18th-century London. But he emerged to become a prominent actor and musician, befriending along the way the artist Thomas Gainsborough, who painted his portrait.

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