About The Creation of the Play From the Playwright Lolita Chakrabarti:
“I began researching Ira Aldridge in 1998. I felt that his life story would make a great film but I was having trouble narrowing his extraordinary life into a single, engaging, dramatic tale. Actor Adrian Lester had recently worked with director Kenneth Branagh on his musical film version of Love’s Labour’s Lost so I asked Ken if he would read a synopsis of the film and tell me what he thought. He did and gave me some very detailed, positive notes and great encouragement. I soon realized that I was not ready to write a film quite yet and decided to put my research away in order to move on to other things. Intermittently Aldridge would knock on the box I had put him in and occasionally I would tell friends about him.
I continued working as an actress and by 2005 I had worked withIndhu Rubasingham several times and we became good friends. I told Indhu about Ira Aldridge and she persuaded me to open the box and turn my thoughts into a play. Indhu and I were both freelancers. She was carving out her career as a director in theatres up and down the country while I was doing the same as an actress. Over the next seven years, Indhu and I would meet between jobs to discuss each draft of the play, which was then called An Unreasonable Man. The other cog in this wheel was Adrian. Over the next few years Adrian and Indhu read every one of the many drafts I wrote. I got a lot of notes – seven years gives room for a lot of notes!”
“As the play began to take shape we approached many London theatres to see if they would help us to get the play on. All of them were fascinated by Aldridge's story, all of them said no. It was very frustrating. Finally one London theatre actually said yes. We started to talk about programming it only to find, a few weeks later, that the theatre changed its mind. It has been a long, arduous, often demoralizing road but Aldridge is an extraordinary figure and he drew us on.
After seven years, countless drafts, several readings and two workshops, I finally decided it was time to let go of RED VELVET (the play’s new name). It was time to put it in my drawer of unrealized scripts. If after all that work, no theatre in London was prepared to invest in the play, there was nothing more I could do.
Then in 2012 Indhu Rubasingham became Artistic Director of the Tricycle Theatre and made RED VELVET her opening show. We opened in October of that year and sold out within a few days. We returned there in 2014 and sold out a week before we opened, then we transferred to St. Anne’s Warehouse in New York and opened to excellent reviews. We have had nine major theatre award nominations and were presented with four of them. And now here we are in London’s West End as part of the Kenneth Branagh season. It’s been quite a ride!
We have traveled a long way – Indhu, Adrian, Ira and I. Many scenes, characters and episodes of Ira’s life have come and gone but in essence this project has always been extraordinary. It has told our story as well as Ira’s. In retrospect (how I love retrospect!) we have been constantly learning to keep our faith in the project and in our own abilities to do it justice. Though we never said it, I think we collectively believed that Aldridge was worth the journey.
I think Ira was an extremely brave, tenacious, uncompromising talent and I think he would’ve been elated to be back in London’s West End after an absence of 183 years.”
Lolita Chakrabarti is an award winning playwright and actress. RED VELVET is her first play. RED VELVET was nominated for nine major theatre awards. Lolita Chakrabarti received a 2012 Critics’ Circle Award for Most Promising Playwright, the 2012 Evening Standard Charles Wintour Award and a 2013 AWA Award for Arts and Culture.
Lolita Chakrabarti trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts and her work as an actress on stage and screen spans 25 years. Film and Television roles include: Beowulf: Return to the Shieldlands (ITV/ Esquire Network), J K Rowling's A Casual Vacancy (BBC), My Mad Fat Diary 3 (E4), Jekyll and Hyde (ITV), One Night, When Romeo Met Juliet, Outnumbered, Hustle, Extras Christmas Special, Silent Witness, Bodies – The Finale (BBC) Forgiven (CH4) The Smoke (Sky), Vera, Fortysomething and WPC Blake in The Bill (ITV), The Other Child (Teamworx) and Intruders (UPI). Her theatre roles include: Last Seen – Joy, written byLolita Chakrabarti, (Almeida Theatre); The Great Game, Afghanistan (Tricycle Theatre); Free Outgoing (Royal Court/Traverse Theatre); John Gabriel Borkman (Donmar Warehouse); The School of Night (Chichester); and The Waiting Room (Royal National Theatre).
Lolita Chakrabarti formed independent film company Lesata Productions with Rosa Maggiora in 2010, (www.lesataproductions.co.uk). Lolita Chakrabarti is developing several projects but is currently writing her first feature film for Lesata Productions and a new play for The Tricycle Theatre.