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A play about Charles Ignatius Sancho–born on a slave ship, painted by Gainsborough–is coming to Harl

Like many actors, Paterson Joseph–who you might recognize from TV shows like HBO's The Leftovers and NBC's Timeless–dreamed of performing in a costume drama, complete with wigs and waistcoats. But as a black Briton, lead roles were few and far between.

So he spent hours doing research and learned of a man that would change the course of his theatrical career forever: Charles Ignatius Sancho, who in 1774 became the first British-African to cast a vote in the UK. Born on a slave ship, Sancho in time learned to read and write, becoming a poet, playwright and composer. He later sat for a portrait by the society painter Thomas Gainsborough–which, it turns out, is how Joseph first discovered him.

Portrait of Ignatius Sancho by Thomas Gainsborough at the National Portrait Gallery

Joseph knew he had found a subject worthy of a play, and the result is a one-man show he wrote and stars in called Sancho: An Act of Remembrance. Produced by The Classical Theatre of Harlem, the work will run for two weeks at the National Black Theatre later this month. (To find out how you can win two free tickets to the show, check out today's post on Instagram.)​

During the 80-minute production, Joseph brings to life this intelligent and witty man's astonishing journey, revealing his numerous accomplishments. Sancho, who counted many celebrated British writers, artists and abolitionists as friends, eventually opened a grocery store in London and gained the right to vote in parliamentary elections. (Read more about a previous staging at BAM here).

"He stayed energized, questioning and pushing against the status quo with the arts as his sanctuary," says Ty Jones, Producing Artistic Director of The Classical Theatre of Harlem. "In this spirit, CTH wants to share his story with the world to show how one man can enact change in the hopes of inspiring all people."

Sancho: An Act of Remembrance will be at The National Black Theatre from April 20-May 6. For tickets go to or

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Top and bottom photos: Robert Day

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