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Monday, 17 June 2013

Ida Aldridge (1807-1867)

In last weeks Independent weekend in one of the horrific quizzes that they run - on the subject of the arts - what TV / film / theatre /music / exhibition has impressed you lately Lenny Henry (last funny somewhere around 1998) picked out Ira Aldridge as his hero. Strangely Id made the trip down to Crystal Palace a couple of weeks before - actaully to do a part of the Green Chain walks that cover SE London from Crystal Palace to Nunhead cemetery. On the Southern edge of Crystal Palace park (given over to a car rally for the day) is Hamlet Road where at No. 5 you'll find an English Heritage plaque erected in 2007. Aldridge was born in 1807 in NYC and was educated at the Manumission society school where he received a classical education. He took his first acting gig in the early 1820s with the African Grove an African-American theatre group where he played both Romeo and Hamlet. He emigrated to England to escape the persistent racism of the States and seems to have been broadly accepted by the European audience, taking on roles - most notably Richard III,Shylock and Othello marrying Margaret Gill and travelling and playing in Ireland, Prussia and Russia. Another forgotten narrative - something that Im enjoying discovering after the last years OU course finding out these little cliche breakers. Not to say that Aldridge didnt face prejudice, his mixed-race marriage seems to have caused a bit of a furore. Crystal palace was deserted the eagles playing at Wenbley that day - plenty of palatial mansions built for the Victorian entrepeneurs hoping to impr4ess at the exposition of which sadly theres not a whole lot left of, the Crystal Palace itself having burned down in 1936.

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