He was born on a slave ship in 1729. After his mother died and his father committed suicide to avoid living as a slave, Charles “Sancho” Ignatius found his home in England. Though never a slave, he was outspoken against slavery and eventually became known as “the extraordinary Negro.” British actor Paterson Joseph, of HBO’s “The Leftovers” and the films Æon Flux and The Beach, has been celebrating the life of Sancho – the first Black person to have voted in Britain – since 2010 when Sancho: An Act of Remembrance was first performed at Oxford Playhouse.
Now the one-man show is making its New York premiere Dec. 16-20, at Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM). The North American debut began in October at John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. The tour will culminate at Chicago Shakespeare Theater in February as part of the Shakespeare 400 Chicago, a yearlong international arts festival commemorating the 400 years since his death in 1616.
Joseph – whose credits abound with Royal Shakespeare Company (Julius Caesar, Othello, Henry IV, Hamlet, King Lear) and National Theatre in London (Royal Hunt for the Sun, The Emperor Jones) – “inhabits the curious, daringly determined life” of a composer, social satirist, poet, playwright and general man of refinement. Sancho, a distinguished man of letters who wrote two plays, would quote Shakespeare more than any other author. Among Sancho’s friends were Shakespeare actor and theatre owner David Garrick. Sancho himself became a grocery owner and property owner.
Written and performed by Joseph, the show is billed as an opportunity to cast new light on the often misunderstood narratives of the African-British experience. According to UK’s The Public Reviews, “Joseph is a superb storyteller… he brings Sancho to life in a revealing, poignant and funny show.”
Joseph’s experience involves working-class parents who emigrated to England from the Caribbean’s St. Lucia. He trained at Studio ’68 of Theatre Arts in London before attending the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. In an interview, Joseph recalled being asked what he would like his legacy to entail. His answer was to inform Black youth about Black Britain before 1948 so they “would know something of what came before.” When Joseph came across the Thomas Gainsborough painting of Sancho in the book “Black England” by Gretchen Gerzina, he had found his calling. Joseph, 51, now is the same age as when Sancho died. Sancho was 39 when Gainsborough created his portrait – a sitting of about 100 minutes. In just under that time, Joseph re-creates a picture of noteworthy history.
In his author’s note, he writes:
“Charles Ignatius is quite simply a perfect example, and by no means the only one in British history, of the strange, sometimes uncomfortable relationship that the UK has always had with its colonies and colonial peoples. On the one hand exploitation was rife and unbridled, and on the other, the natural and common humanity of the British would not allow them to fully embrace the horrors of the American model of slavery, at least on British soil. And so Sancho’s life was filled with the joy and pain of being at once free and simultaneously caged within his race and place in eighteenth-century society.”
Performances will be at the BAM Fisher Theatre, 321 Ashland Place, in Brooklyn. Click HERE to purchase tickets. Get updates on the show’s Facebook page.
Newsnight on BBC talks about the impact of British theatre, including a brief interview with Joseph and excerpts from Sancho.
This is “Sancho” by Tim Smith on Vimeo, the home for high quality videos and the people who love them.
We Were There: Sojourners & Her Portmanteau
[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Playwright, educator, opera singer, and Queen, Mfoniso Udofia has two plays running at New York Theatre Workshop. *pause* TWO PLAYS. In the SAME season!?!? *ends congratulatory gasp* Sojourners and Her Portmanteau are performed in repertory, as two chapters of Udofia’s sweeping, nine-part saga, The Ufot Cycle. Admittedly, before researching each show, I didn’t know the definition of either word; and in the spirit of keeping it consistent with the honesty, I didn’t like either play. I loved them.
Minimalism seems to be the name of the game these days. I sat down to a completely black stage, sans a multimedia display lodged on the ceiling at a 45-degree angle. Clutching my all white program and bobbing my head to the ‘70s pop rock pre-show music, I prepared my heart for the story of Sojourners, well at least that was the plan. The stage begins to rotate and we meet Abasiama (Chinasa Ogbuagu) and Ukpong (Hubert Point-Du Jour), Nigerian expatriates sojourning in Houston, Texas with the plan to start a family, earn their degrees, and go back to Nigeria until life happens.
Charming and handsome, Ukpong becomes defined by his leather jacket, shoulder work and shimmy which match the fascination and yearning for freedom that illuminates his eyes every time he talks of peace, protest, and Prince–all shaping his view of 1970s America, and consequently, the American Dream. But does leather compensate for grit? Is a movement or vibe really a panacea for disappointment, aimlessness, and a need to find yourself? Abasiama enters the play pregnant, purposed, and outfitted in pieces of Nigerian garb, grounded in duty showing a stark contrast to Ukpong who floats in desire. What’s lost in your household is found elsewhere, and this is when we start to see, and root for, Abasiama’s transformation from timid to tenacious.
Enter Moxie (Lakisha May), a colorful prostitute turned protector and friend. There is a mutual respect despite great differences between her and Abasiama, with their love for one another creating moments that make you believe in the beauty of humanity. Enter Disciple (Chinaza Uche), another warm and determined hearted immigrant who has come to the United States to study, rounding out the timely additions of love, support, and security when Abasiama needed them the most.
Through and through this is Abasiama’s story and she glows. Her kindness, her sisterhood, her strength, her worthiness, and the realization of her American Dream, guide her decisions—which is the catalyst behind the entire Ufot Cycle.
Her “portmanteau”, or red suitcase, makes a return as 30 years have passed. Abasiama now has two daughters, one raised in America and the other who has come from Nigeria to reconnect with her family.
This is a good moment to mention that each story is informed by the other, but can certainly stand alone on substance, content, and the amazing direction of Ed Sylvanus Iskandar. The staging is exciting and deliberate, while minimal, putting the full focus on the tension and growth to be expected of a family reunited after a substantial amount of time and distance.
Chinasa Ogbuagu returns to the stage, this time as the American-born daughter, Adiagha Ufot, Adepero Oduye as Iniabasi Ekpeyoung (Ukpong and Abasiama’s daughter), and Jenny Jules as the mother, Abasiama Ufot.
Seated on a couch in Adiagha’s small New York Apartment, no amount of preparation readies your mind and spirit to form the words to make up for 30 years of life, connection, and memories missed. We’re taken on a ride of resentment, hurt, love, and forgiveness, as the portmanteau is literally unpacked. We watch the teeter-tottering between offense and defense as one sister tries to assimilate into American culture, and the other attempts, albeit stubbornly, to fall in formation in honoring a family she shares blood with, but little time or tangible history.
It’s powerful to see a story of history and continuing a legacy despite lost time, faulty promises, and difficult choices explored with an all-woman cast as far too often the idea of legacy is framed in patriarchy. Jules admirably takes Abasiama through the fire to heal, to feel, and to fix her family. The narrative allows us to empathize and understand the struggle that comes with upholding family values versus cultivating a space to achieve personal dreams and happiness.
Her Portmanteau (and Sojourners) is written in a way that finds your soul, gently massaging it with humor, while leaving it with very real questions. I’ve never felt a greater need to binge read nine stories and simultaneously study the story of my own family tree. I left changed. I left wrapped in the strength of my mom and my mom’s- mom’s sacrifice. I left pensive and with seeds of future forgiveness planted. I left changed.
For capturing our hearts with wit and with truth. For putting Black women at the center of a poignant narrative. For unapologetically telling a story you haven’t seen told and telling it in the way you want it to be told.
We thank you Mfoniso. We thank you.
Have you seen the #duetplays? Sound off in the comments below![/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]
Our Story in 2 Plays for 1 Price: Mfoniso Udofia’s Sojourners & Her Portmanteau
Last winter, we reported on Sojourners by playwright Mfoniso Udofia, a new play about a Nigerian family who has come to America with the goal of earning a college education, starting a family, and returning to Nigeria. But not without the twists and turns that come along with every plan that seems straightforward.
Thanks to New York Theatre Workshop, we get to relive this moment and continue the dialogue, decades later, with Her Portmanteau. Performed in repertory, these two chapters of Udofia’s sweeping, nine-part saga, The Ufot Cycle, chronicle the triumphs and losses of the tenacious matriarch of a Nigerian family.
Ed Sylvanus Iskandar directs the two-part story in association with The Playwrights Realm, who premiered Sojourners last winter in a limited engagement world premiere production. Her Portmanteau also received the 2016 Edgerton Foundation New Play Award grant.
As if that wasn’t enough to get excited about, we have an exclusive deal for our Broadway Black readers!
Our Story in 2 Plays for 1 Price!
Yes. That’s two shows for one price! The discount code BWYBLACK will take 50% off tickets to ANY performance(s) if purchased by May 15th!
Go ahead and grab your tickets. We have ours!
Sojourners and Her Portmanteau plays at NYTW until June 4th.