So I'm glad that this came across in Sancho – An Act of Remembrance; a play written and performed by Paterson Joseph. From the first moments; when he is sitting for Thomas Gainsborough, one of the foremost artists of the Georgian period, Joseph brought to life the wit and wisdom that infused Sancho's published correspondence. You can see why his grocer's shop was such a success: the store that became a cherished place for writers, artists and actors. They came to be in the presence of one who radiated warmth and distributed joy.
Sancho was a self-taught boy, whose evident brightness, although dimmed by his ageing owners, was re-ignited through the belief and patronage of his great mentor, the Duke of Montagu. It was in his early twenties, in the house of the duke, that he began to write the plays, poems and music, that garnered such widespread acclaim. Padded well to depict his corpulence; catching the speech impediment which halted an acting career, Paterson gave us a real picture of this man, dubbed "the extraordinary negro".
While the majority of people were excluded from the electoral register; due to the ownership of the shop, he was eligible to vote and did so, in 1780. He cast his vote for Charles James Fox, who fought for abolition, religious tolerance and parlimentary reform.
Amongst his friends, were famous figures such as the actor David Garrick, who had suggested that he follow him into the profession. There was also Laurence Sterne, novelist and cleric; whose name was mentioned in his friends' obituary, the first written of an African.
In 1782, two years after his passing, Francis Anne Crewe, a society beauty and political hostess, one of his former correspondents, collected and published The Letters of the Late Ignatius Sancho, an African. It was an instant best-seller. She undertook this venture to help provide for his widow and children and to prove ''that an untutored African may possess abilities equal to a European''. In doing so, Ignatuis Sancho became the first African to have a work of prose published in the United Kingdom.
Towards the end of the performance, Joseph changed clothes on stage; playing the last part of the piece as Sancho's widow. We saw reminiscences of him and former friends; talk of their growing children. The play ends with her wrapping the Gainsborough painting in the blanket that he used to cover himself with.
For an hour and a half, Paterson Joseph held our attention. His brilliant monologue was interspersed with pathos and humour; great timing and accent changes. He proved a performer who deserved the standing ovation he received.
If our jovial hero was looking on, I think he would have shed a tear or two and rocked his body with laughter. This warm and vibrant man, who due to gout lost the bounce in his step; but retained it forever in his spirit.