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The untold history of Black and Asian performers working in Shakespeare in the UK

Date: 13/05/2013

Telling the untold history of Black and Asian performers working in Shakespeare in the UK is the subject of the latest film from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) being published today (Monday 13 May). The film British Black and Asian Shakespeare: Writing a History traces how the theatre reflects changes in wider society. The release of the film coincides with opening night of King Lear at Shakespeare’s Globe which stars Black British Actor, Joseph Marcell, in the lead role.

The film showcases the AHRC funded project, British Black and Asian Shakespeare, which has set out to deliver, a critical history of multicultural Shakespearean performance in 20th-century Britain.

The research is led by Professor Tony Howard at the University of Warwick, who says he hopes the project will: reclaim the history of multi-ethnic Shakespeare in the UK, broadening cultural access in the 21st century.

The film starts by introducing the actor, singer and human rights activist Paul Robeson, whose sensational success playing Othello in London in 1930 paved the way for all the black actors who have followed him.

The film then follows the timeline decade-by-decade looking at the development of British Black and Asian actors on the Shakespearean stage from the 1930s to present day.

The film sees ex-Eastenders actor, Nicholas Bailey, voicing the part of Paul Robeson and also sharing his own reflections on what Shakespearean roles mean to him, as a black actor. Nicholas poses the question: ‘I'm a black Actor on stage, playing a Shakespearean role: How did I get here?’

Nicholas' question is what the research sets out to address. Tony Howard concludes: Shakespeare is a mirror for British cultural identity, its anxieties and ambitions. Who performs Shakespeare, when and how, helps define who we are as a community and how we see ourselves changing.

The film was recorded at Warwick Arts Centre where the British Black and Asian Shakespeare project was launched earlier this year with the unveiling of an exhibition-style timeline which maps the history and course of Black and Asian actors on the Shakespearean stage.

Professor Tony Howard and Nicolas Bailey will be available for a twitter chat Friday 17 May (TBC) at 2.30pm

For further information, please contact: Danielle Moore-Chick, AHRC: 01793 416021 d.moore-chick@ahrc.ac.uk


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