Friday, 8 June 2018

Ignatius Sancho on stage



Currently playing at Wilton's Music Hall in Wapping is the solo show by Patterson Joseph narrating the life of Ignatius Sancho, one of the best-known African citizens of London in the 18th century, who became a composer, campaigner and shopkeeper, and was probably the first man of colour to vote in a parliamentary election, when the franchise depended on property ownership. 
Born on a Spanish slave ship around 1729 and taken to Britain in 1731, he worked for three sisters in Greenwich and then for the Duke of Montagu before opening a grocery store in Westminster.  He married a Caribbean woman and had several children, and died in 1780.
Sancho's story is known from his own writings, his correspondence with Laurence Sterne being published in 1782, and from his letters to the press  and involvement in the nascent anti-slavery movement.  His appearance is known from the portrait by Thomas Gainsborough


which Patterson Joseph recreates on stage, apart from the hair - it's not clear from the portrait whether Sancho's is fashionably long or a black Georgian-style wig,  but he's clearly presented as a Georgian-style gentleman. 
From his years as a footman and valet, through his time as a tradesman, friendship with Sterne and casting his vote for Charles James Fox, Joseph's is a witty account of Sancho, following the historical sources but including dramatic animadversions, and a tour de force in terms of theatrical event. 


Here is a review by Chris Omaweng     https://www.londontheatre1.com/reviews/review-sancho-an-act-of-remembrance-wiltons-music-hall/

and here are details of the current performances :https://www.wiltons.org.uk/whatson/420-sancho-an-act-of-remembrance

One episode in the show evokes Sancho's music, which includes fashionable dance minuets, reels and songs.  More about his compositions here:   http://sanchomusic.synthasite.com/

Wilton's Music Hall is a resurrected building that has lately been preserved in all its decay.  As a theatre it was designed for comedians and popular song-and-dance acts and just about works for Joseph's energetic Sancho monologue, but places most of the audience rather far from performer.  However, its historical quality certainly adds to the theme of  forgotten stories.

I'm wondering if some enterprising actors are thinking of dramatising the life of Francis Barber?   There should be some good scenes to write set in Samuel Johnson's house, especially when Barber entertained his fellow Black Londoners there


Wednesday, 6 June 2018

Ruskin and Education


A new collection of essays on this theme is being published:
RUSKIN AND NINETEENTH CENTURY EDUCATION.   details here
 
John Ruskin, whose bicentenary will be celebrated in 2019, was not only an art historian, cultural critic and political theorist, but also, above all, a great educator. He was the inspiration behind William Morris, Leo Tolstoy, Marcel Proust and Mahatma Gandhi, and his influence can be felt increasingly in every sphere of education today, for example, in debates about the importance of creativity, grammar schools and social mobility, Further Education, the crucial social role of libraries, environmental issues, the role of crafts as well as academic learning, the importance of fantasy literature and the education of women. Though Ruskin was a great believer in ‘Separate Spheres’, he also championed wider learning opportunities for girls. ‘John Ruskin and Nineteenth-Century Education‘ brings together ten top international Ruskin scholars to explore what he actually said about education in his many-faceted writings, and points to some of the key educational issues raised by his work, concluding with a powerful rereading of his ecological writing and his apocalyptic vision of the earth’s future.  Edited by Valerie Purton, this volume is dedicated to Dinah Birch, a much-loved Victorian specialist and authority on Ruskin, and makes a fresh and significant contribution to Victorian studies in the twenty-first century. 


To declare an interest, this volume contains an essay by me, 'Mad Governess or Wise Counsellor?'  on the context and contents of  Ruskin's (in)famous text Sesame and Lilies.  Here below is the opening :

This chapter begins, unusually for me, with an autobiographical anecdote that concerns my old school.  Some little while ago I was invited to the annual Founder’s Day, and as the invitation was insistent,  I duly presented at 10.00am in the school hall, to find a seat with my name on it. Much of the programme was familiar, a rather uncanny sensation after so many years, but then members of the upper sixth performed a drama written by themselves, which enacted episodes from the story of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, involving John Everett Millais, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Elizabeth Siddal, John Ruskin et al.   I knew then why I had been invited, as an alumna who has written extensively about this group and their art. Being a connoisseur of dramatisations and re-tellings of the PRB’s now near-legendary events, I enjoyed the somewhat tongue-in-cheek presentation by these stylish young women.
More followed, in the speech by the head teacher. I recalled that in my day the head was a historian and annually pulled out of the past some aspect of the school’s founding – by none other than the redoubtable Frances Mary Buss, this being North London Collegiate School and she being immortalised alongside Dorothea Beale, the formidable founder of Cheltenham Ladies College:

Miss Buss and Miss Beale
Cupid’s darts do not feel;
How different from us,
Miss Beale and Miss Buss.

On this latest Founder’s Day at NLCS the historical theme was art. Frances Buss’s father was  an unsuccessful painter who taught drawing at her new school, opened in 1850,and through whom she had artistic acquaintance. In the school archive is the record of a visit by Millais, who happened upon a student practising the harp, and also a letter to school governor Annie Ridley from John Ruskin, in which he wrote: ‘I am much interested in what you tell me of the school and of the feelings with which it has been founded’, adding, ‘I might perhaps be able to come and see what you are doing and to hear how I could promote it.’

This was intriguing to hear, because the school’s founding principles were that girls’ education should be as intellectually rigorous as that of their brothers, should include public examinations and in due course preparation for university, and should also involve regular physical exercise.  Whereas Ruskin, as has always been assumed, promoted gender difference in education,  ‘Sesame’ meaning classical and scientific learning for a boy, ‘Lilies’, sympathy and service to others for a girl:
All such knowledge …as may enable her to understand and even to aid, the work of men … yet not as knowledge, not as if it were for her an object to know, but only to feel and judge….

And
Solemnly she is to be taught to strive that her thoughts of pity be not … feeble … nor her prayer …languid … for the relief from pain or her husband or child [or] when it is uttered for the multitudes who have none to love them – and is “for all who are desolate and oppressed”

 So what brought these two views into potential collaboration?