When Paapa Essiedu took the stage as Hamlet, he made history as the first black actor to play Hamlet for the Royal Shakespeare Company. Leading a predominantly black ensemble this was surely a refreshing presentation of the play. The Simon Goodwin directed play featured an energetic cast, with vibrant costumes. Essiedu wore a suit covered in spray paint and it was clear that it was a version of Hamlet unlike anything anyone had ever seen before.
As noted by The Guardian, he was born in London and his family is from Ghana. When asked about his take on racism in the theater he said:
“The huge issue we have is to do with the stories being told. It is all very well to talk about color-blind casting. But you can’t keep saying that because you cast a black actor as Darcy in Pride and Prejudice you’re making progress – it is tokenism.” – Paapa Essiedu, The Guardian
All of the hard work put into preparing for the role surely paid off and the play received rave reviews. At the UK Theatre Awards, Essiedu won the “Best Performance in a Play” award.
He said that the achievement was “a huge honor” and “significant and insignificant at the same time” as reported by BBC.
“It’s significant in that the RSC is a national organization that should represent everyone in our country regardless of your creed, color, religion, sexuality, whatever.”
“As such you would expect something like this to have happened before. But I think it was really important that it was happening now and we were really proud of the work that we did” he added.
Photo Credit: Alastair Muir