Review: Sancho: An Act of Rememberance (Wilton's Music Hall)

Paterson Joseph stars in this one-man show about Charles Ignatius Sancho

Paterson Joseph in Sancho: An Act of Rememberance
Paterson Joseph in Sancho: An Act of Rememberance
(© Robert Day)

As ways of disarming your audience and critics go, Paterson Joseph's will take some beating. His entrance in this terrific solo show is hard to better. He bounds on – charismatic, engaging, almost ridiculously good looking – and proceeds to tell us he's a proud Londoner and that, as the sole progenitor of this play, it's all his fault. Next he shows us a Gainsborough portrait of the character he is about to introduce…

Then he tells this story… and what a wonderful thing it is. Charles Ignatius Sancho really existed – indeed you couldn't make this up – and he was a classical actor, a composer, an anti-slavery campaigner, and the first black Brit to vote in a general election. As embodied by Joseph, he is also tremendously good company: witty, a little camp, sensitive but never fey, precious in the best sense of that word, utterly mesmerising and, crucially, quietly furious.

Joseph's 70 minute text is a beaut, mixing dynamic storytelling, direct audience connection, some genuine belly laughs and a smattering of Shakespeare. The racism that Sancho encounters feels all the more shocking and unacceptable because its victim is such an open soul. It is in these sections that the piece acquires a raw theatrical power, all the more potent because we have become so engaged.

The lines "when will we of darker shade have cause to cease our endless labour of proof? When rest we upon our own history, and claim a place alongside our equally worthy fair brethren?" hit home with considerable force. Joseph claims to have conceived the show partly out of frustration that, as an actor of colour, he was seldom cast in a period piece. That situation is slowly changing, and there is still a long way to go, but in the meantime this beautiful, life-enhancing piece of work is a superb addition to the canon. Simon Godwin's deceptively simple direction is a miracle of canny but discreet stagecraft.