By Chris High
Actor, Patrick Robinson, who is probably best known for his role of playing Martin ‘Ash’ Ashford in the BBC Drama Casualty, is currently electrifying audiences at the Liverpool Playhouse as the freed slave Thomas Peters in Caryl Phillips’s adaptation of Simon Schama’s book, Rough Crossings, set during the American War of Independence, and beyond. ‘What attracted me to the play,’ Patrick said recently, ‘was the subject matter, pure and simple. This is a story that is not often heard and yet still needs to be told. I’ve not actually read the book because, as an actor, I like to go with what’s written in the script and develop and get in tune with the character in my own way and with Thomas, there is a lot of emotion to bring out. All that anger and frustration makes him a great person to play.
As the American War of Independence reaches its climax, a plantation slave and a British Naval Officer embark on an epic journey in search of freedom. Divided by barriers of race but united in their ambitions for equality, their convictions will change attitudes towards slavery forever. Sweeping from the deep south of America to the scorched earth of West Africa, Rough Crossings is a compelling true story that marks the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade in the British Empire. ‘Thomas, in the face of adversity, is the one voice that shouts up and says “No” and who highlights what it is to be a slave,’ Patrick commented. ‘In many ways, where some characters are like Martin Luther King – such as David George, played by Peter de Jersey – I see Thomas as being more like Malcolm X. The one who flows against the tide.’
Rough Crossings has received many rave reviews, not least from BBC Online. However, Patrick steers clear of reading them. ‘I tend to take a look about five years afterwards. When I was working with the RSC, I found that some actors would change; if they got a good review they would become sort of complacent, whereas a bad review would see others trying too hard. Ultimately, it’s what the audience on the night thinks of the show that matters most.’
In this the biennial anniversary year of the abolition of slavery, Patrick has strong views on the subject as a whole and is delighted to see Liverpool taking such a positive stance in stance in the promotion of awareness as to what being a slave was like with the opening of the exhibition recently at the Maritime Museum. ‘Slavery is a subject that is very difficult to talk about, because this country was more or less built on it; slavery, when all is said and done, was probably the most lucrative industry known to man at the time so, when it was abolished, I suppose it was a little like cars being abolished today in order to save the planet. There’s no question that I’ll be visiting the Maritime Museum’s exhibition because these are the type of things that need to be encouraged so that people can ask questions all the time. This is my first appearance on stage in Liverpool – though I have been to Southport before – and, as this was the hub of the slave trade, I can’t think of a better place to put Rough Crossings on in, in order to get that message out there. This is a true story and one that needs to be told.’
Rough Crossings is at The Liverpool Playhouse until October 27.
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