Transcript

The 'African Roscius' with a 'Vulgarly Foreign' Accent
The Times, 11 April 1833


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COVENT-GARDEN THEATRE.
     An experiment, and not a remarkably successful one, as the emptiness of the house incontestably proved; was last night essayed here. The tragedy of Othello was performed, the part of the Moor by an individual, of Negro origin, as his features sufficiently testify, who calls himself Aldridge, and who has been facetiously nick-named "the African Roscius." Such an exhibition is well enough at Sadler's Wells, or at Bartholomew fair, but it certainly is not very creditable to a great national establishment. We could not perceive any fitness which Mr. Aldridge possessed for the assumption of one of the finest parts that was ever imagined by Shakspeare, except, indeed, that he could play it in his own native hue, without the aid of lampblack or pomatum, just as Stephen Kemble was, by nature, enabled to personate Falstaff without the ordinary stuffing; but Mr. Kemble's Falstaff, notwithstanding his ready-made obesity, was miserably deficient in humour; and Mr. Aldridge's Othello, with all the advantage of "hic niger est," wanted spirit and feeling. His accent is unpleasantly, and we would say, vulgarly foreign; his manner, generally, drawling and unimpressive; and when, by chance (for chance it is, and not judgment), he rises to a higher strain, we perceive in the transition the elevation of rant, not the fiery dignity of soul-felt passion. His performance in the third act - that overpowering act - was weak. The "vale!" which is music in itself when delivered by an actor of even ordinary voice and judgment, was miserably feeble. A few plaudits followed it, but "the judicious grieved." Much praise has been given to Shakspeare for the arguments which Iago adduces to prove that nothing but a light, fickle constitution - a hankering after novelty - could ever have induced so fair and gentle a creature as Desdemona to view the Moor with the feelings of love. The performance of last night was a keenly illustrative comment upon that point. Well might Desdemona's father imagine that sorcery, and not nature, had caused his daughter to listen to such a wooer. It is, however, our duty to state that Mr. Aldridge was extremely well received. He "fit audience found, though few." Mr Warde's Iago evinced far more than an average portion of merit, but, like almost all whom we have seen in the character, he allowed the villainy of Iago to appear too much on the surface. Iago should
"Look like th' innocent flow'r,
"But be the serpent under it."
He is such a consummate and habitual deceiver, that in one or two of his soliloquies he even attempts to deceive himself. We were greatly pleased with Miss E. Tree's Desdemona. In the early scenes her manner, playful, delicate, confiding, was quite in unison with the feelings of one to whom the annoyances of life were as yet unknown; but the picture changes; and the harrowing grief which the altered temper of the Moor creates was described by Miss E. Tree with painful fidelity. Her acting was very beautiful in the scene where, in contradiction to the Moor's most rudely-couched accusation, she asseverates her innocence.


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