Review: Sancho: An Act of Remembrance
Paterson Joseph as Sancho - photo by Robert Day
Born on a slave ship, educated in secret, Ignatius Sancho became a composer, actor, anti-slavery campaigner, and the first Afro-Briton to vote in a British general election.
Sancho's story casts new light on the often misunderstood narratives of the African-British experience.
After an international tour, Paterson Joseph's new play receives its London premiere at Wilton's Music Hall.
In this revealing, funny, one-man show, Paterson Joseph (National Theatre's Emperor Jones, Royal Shakespeare Company's Julius Caesar, Peep Show, Rellik, Timeless) inhabits the curious, daringly determined life of Charles 'Sancho' Ignatius.
Co-directed by Simon Godwin this is the little known story of a man who lived a remarkable life.
Wilton's Music Hall seems like the perfect venue to host the London premiere of this monologue, written and performed by Paterson Joseph.
First opened around 80 years after the death of this play's human subject, the theatre embodies the appropriate decorous identity and historical atmosphere to augment what we're watching on stage.
Mr Joseph's monologue is about one Charles Ignatius Sancho who was born on a slave ship around 1729 and died in London in 1780.
Ignatius Sancho was an extraordinary man, certainly for the time in which he lived, but had he been among us today we might still find him extraordinary even in these extraordinary times in which we live.
Here's the man himself, painted by Thomas Gainsborough, the dominant British portraitist of the second half of the 18th century ...
Ignatius Sancho, 1768 by Thomas Gainsborough
The monologue itself has been a while in getting here to the capital - the original commissioning of this work dates back to 2011 by the Oxford Playhouse and it's toured quite extensively in the USA.
It's Gainsborough's portrait which starts Paterson Joseph on his road to relating the life story of Sancho.
And like the portrait he rightly eschews the aim of describing the minutiae of Sancho's entire life, some aspects of which, I suspect, may not even be authoritatively documented anyway - like his actual brith date.
In a very real sense, this is Mr Joseph's dramatic portrait of a man he obviously admires and holds in considerable esteem, and rightly so as we also come to admire a little known historical character.
As such it gives us some of the significant moments in Sancho's life, largely in chronological order but stopping short of being a complete birth to death biography.
The evening starts, though, with Mr Joseph as himself.
Paterson Joseph - photo by Robert Day
This enables us to identify with the actor as a person and for him to effortlessly create rapport with the audience through his considerable charm and genial sense of humour.
Though the introduction felt a touch on the lengthy side, it served its purpose more than adequately, but the real meat of the play comes when we find Mr Joseph adopting his dramatic alter ego here, Sancho himself.
There's little purpose to be served in duplicating the synopsis above, which is both succinct and precise in terms of the most important aspects of Sancho's life which this short play reveals.
Much of what we learn about the man will be new and surprising for most people - which makes Mr Joseph's monologue all the more enlightening and powerful.
For this is an important work about a talented man with an enquiring mind who struggled against both the prejudices of his time and his own psyche - for example, given an annuity, he promptly spent it in short order, revealing a human being with foibles just like the rest of us.
Paterson Joseph's fine character portraiture is engagingly enjoyable and entertaining in equal measure, combining emotively poignant moments with well-contrasted humorous incidents and bringing an extraordinary, brave and unique persona to life.
Links and related content
ActDrop listing for Wilton's Music Hall
Our show listing for Sancho: An Act of Remembrance
Read our reviews' policy