Saturday, October 20, 2007

Let my people go

Joe Riley talks to actor Patrick Robinson about his latest stage role as a slavery freedom fighter

IT’S ALMOST 11 years now since Patrick Robinson bowed out of TV hospital drama Casualty as charge nurse Ash.

“I gave them the story line to leave,” says the actor, presently appearing at Liverpool Playhouse in a drama about slavery freedom fighter Thomas Peters - “more Malcolm X than Martin Luther King.”

“Ash got married and went of into the sunset.

“At the time we did 15 episodes and I did other theatre work in between.

“Holby City (the off-shoot) didn’t even exist.”

For six years, Patrick played Ash, who became one of the public’s favourites.

Meanwhile, he comes up with a surprise personal revelation concerning the British public’s seeming obsession with hospital dramas: “It’s not my cup of tea and I don’t particularly like to go into hospital.

“But there is always intrigue and drama in people close to death, and we all have this mortality. It’s how we go.”

Ironically, there’s a different type of mortal danger in Rough Crossings, Caryl Phillips’ stage adaptation of Simon Schama’s book about black slaves who chose to fight for the British in the American civil war.

The slaves were on a promise of freedom and self determination - but it all went wrong.

They were duped and ended up being shipped to the freezing wastes of Nova Scotia, Canada, where many died.

Thomas Peters – himself a freed slave and a real hero – chose to take the long voyage to England to negotiate a better deal for his people.

But even when the former slaves arrived in Freetown, Sierra Leone, their dreams were not fully realised.

“They still found themselves under the jurisdiction of the Sierra Leone company and the whites from England,” explains Patrick.

Creating the role of Peters, he says, has been fascinating: “Obviously, nobody alive today knows what he was like.

“He really stands out, however, from the pages of the book, as a man who followed his convictions and was true to his own sense of justice.

“Peters would not accept the situation as others had. The slaves had been promised freedom, land and shelter if they fought for the British.

But it did not turn out like that and Thomas Peters would not let it lie. He fought against what had happened to him and his people.”

He set off on a sea journey (another of the rough crossings of the play’s title) which had its own dangers.

What followed was a total quest for what he believed was morally right.

The production, at the Playhouse until October 27, is a joint staging with Birmingham Repertory, the West Yorkshire Playhouse and the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith.

Let my people go - Liverpool Arts - Entertainment - Liverpool Echo.co.uk