Sancho: An Act of Remembrance – review
Oxford Playhouse

Published: Thursday, September 24, 2015 8:35 PM | Review by: Gillian Fisher |
Pemberley Productions and Oxford Playhouse present SANCHO - AN ACT OF REMEMBRANCE Conceived, written and performed by Paterson Joseph. Photo- Paterson Joseph as Sancho © Robert Day Pemberley Productions and Oxford Playhouse present SANCHO - AN ACT OF REMEMBRANCE Conceived, written and performed by Paterson Joseph. Photo- Paterson Joseph as Sancho © Robert Day

Such is Joseph’s commitment to his role that any trace of the actor evaporates once his waistcoat is donned.


Paterson Joseph’s (read interview) solo show is a voyage into Britain’s unexplored history. Specifically, it is a tribute to the incredible life of one Charles Ignatius Sancho. This eighteenth century man of letters was a playwright, abolitionist and general man about town. What makes his tale so unique is that Sancho entered the world on board a slave ship in 1729. Born into slavery, at the age of three he arrived in Greenwich to begin a life of servitude. Sancho however, had other plans. In his 70-minute show, Joseph re-enacts the key moments in the icon’s life with sensitivity, veracity and superb comedic flair. Though wildly entertaining, this show has a much broader significance. It challenges our preconceived ideas of this nation’s demographic. Stepping back into Sancho’s 18th century London, we discover a life and a city that abound with colour.


Conceived, written by and starring Joseph, the show has an informal intimacy. Joseph bounds onto the stage via the aisles to introduce himself. It seems we’re immediately on first name terms. In his brief overture he introduces his subject, rolls his trouser legs into breeches and with a slight lisp, Sancho is born. We make the Londoner’s acquaintance in 1768, whilst he is being immortalised in oil by Thomas Gainsborough. Sancho’s character is evident from the first. Baroque, droll and impossibly ostentatious, the entire audience was wrapt. The hanky waving valet greets his audience in plummy, orotund tones and introduces himself as ‘authaaah, compsaaah, musician.’ Music was indeed a key part of Sancho’s life and the score composed by Ben Park is a reformulation of Sancho’s original compositions. Our leading man regales the audience with the tale of his life thus far, recounting the events that have led to his status as ‘an educated black.’


Joseph completely fills the stage with his ebullient performance. The direction by Joseph and Simon Godwin is also deeply proactive. Amidst the ribaldry are moments of frank emotion which are deftly orchestrated. Such is Joseph’s commitment to his role that any trace of the actor evaporates once his waistcoat is donned. As such it is Sancho who describes the perilous events of his birth, his gruelling passage to London and his introduction to the three weird sisters. ‘Words used with Shakespearian accuracy’ our hero quips. Sancho’s dialogue is littered with cultural references and French phraseology. He also has a tendency to refer to himself in the third person, using terms such as ‘Fortunate Africanus’ ‘Unhappy Sancho’ ‘Educated negro.’


Pemberley Productions and Oxford Playhouse present SANCHO - AN ACT OF REMEMBRANCE Conceived, written and performed by Paterson Joseph. Photo- Paterson Joseph as Sancho © Robert Day Pemberley Productions and Oxford Playhouse present SANCHO - AN ACT OF REMEMBRANCE Conceived, written and performed by Paterson Joseph. Photo- Paterson Joseph as Sancho © Robert Day

Everybody should see this show. It educates without lecturing. It entertains without patronising. It emotes without sentimentalising. Most of all, it inspires.


It is Sancho’s sense of the theatrical which first gained him the attention of David Garrick and his thirst for literature which endeared him to the Duke of Montagu. A seven year old Sancho kicks his legs and bites his lip with puckish excitement as he describes his secret schooling. Much to the audience’s surprise, he demonstrates his waltzing skills and rhapsodizes his foray into the classics. Our protagonist is a shameless crowd pleaser and there are frequent cheeky asides and addresses to the audience.


Very much a play of two halves, once his portrait is completed we fast forward twelve years to Sancho’s new abode. A greengrocer’s in Mayfair. Now a husband and proud father, the merchant wields a cabbage with aplomb as he reminisces about his former life. But whilst he clearly misses his role in high society, as a man of property Sancho is afforded the right to vote. To the beat of African drums, Sancho strides forth to Westminster. This is Sancho’s legacy. As the first black Briton to vote, his actions directly shaped the Britain we know today. Joseph steps out of character at this point, fervidly declaring ‘Without a vote, I am no better than a slave.’


Sancho: An Act of Remembrance is a theatrical triumph. Joseph’s articulate writing presents a man of intelligence, vision and pride. A man who refused to accept the hand he was dealt and overcame adversity to simply be himself. Everybody should see this show. It educates without lecturing. It entertains without patronising. It emotes without sentimentalising. Most of all, it inspires.


Pemberley Productions and Oxford Playhouse present SANCHO - AN ACT OF REMEMBRANCE Conceived, written and performed by Paterson Joseph. Photo- Paterson Joseph as Sancho © Robert Day Pemberley Productions and Oxford Playhouse present SANCHO - AN ACT OF REMEMBRANCE Conceived, written and performed by Paterson Joseph. Photo- Paterson Joseph as Sancho © Robert Day

Info: Sancho: An Act of Remembrance (see listing) is at the Birmingham Rep until September 25, 2015 | Visit the Sancho the Play website for further information



Related links

Paterson Joseph - interview





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