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