Ivanno Jeremiah plays Sidney Poitier in the world première of Ryan Calais Cameron’s new play based on a true event in the life of actor Sidney Poitier in 1950s Hollywood.
The full cast is Ian Bonar (Bobby), Ivanno Jeremiah (Sidney), and Daniel Lapaine (Mr Parks). From the writer of the award-winning, smash hit For Black Boys Who Have Considered Suicide When The Hue Gets Too Heavy, Retrograde will be directed by Kiln Associate Director Amit Sharma.
The production will open at the Kiln Theatre on 26 April, with previews from 20 April, and will run until 27 May 2023.
You’re starring in Retrograde at Kiln Theatre, what can you tell us about the show?
- July heat in New York. We join the young Director Robert Alan Arthur and his then hopeful strong-black-lead Sidney Poitier the week-end before shooting their, soon to be famous “A Man is 10 Feet Tall” 1955 (remade “Edge of the City” 1957) live TV play.
As we follow them and their keen intentions into Mr Parks’ corner office at NBC Towers. With their pens in hand, poised to sign the necessary legal paperwork – cracks start to form in their shared dream. Mr Parks’ legal room floor opens up into a rightful 6th Avenue Rubicon, a whirlpool threatening to pull both Sidney and “Bobby” into its depths below. As they are forced to make big decisions and all parties involved leave very differently to how they arrived.
What was it about Ryan Calais Cameron’s script that made you want to be part of this production?
First read Mr Calais Cameron’s work back in 2019. Retrograde, a slightly different version then, had won him the Off West End, Adopt a Playwright Award. As part of the award’s spoils they offered a full cast to read the winners work on stage. I left the Criterion Theatre that day and kept that copy in my office to this day. I remember thinking this is what Theatre sounds like operating at its best. I’m sure you too will find his writing is dreamy, poetically sophisticated, succinct, unapologetic and stays with you long afterward. Literally and figuratively, in my case!
It’s based on a true event, how much of this did you know and how have you gone about researching it?
Without giving too much away the event or events in question were very hard to believe happened at all. Nonetheless one only needs to look at the political culture of the times (1954) and retrieve accounts from other artists, his contemporaries, to glean that this seemingly larger than life snapshot Ryan has captured, was surely one of many situations alike happening in many other offices around the ‘States.
What are you most excited about playing Sidney Poitier?
It has been an honour to spend time studying this pioneer, a true revolutionary whose contribution has and continues to directly affect me/us today in many ways. I’m excited about sharing a younger version of this giant among men and hope to share a little of the magic of Sidney the man, father, New Yorker before the Monolith-Actor-Icon.
Hopefully in shedding light on some of the sides of him the cameras didn’t see, excellently penned by Ryan, we can all get to know him a little better. We may even question how much has changed in many of these dynamics over the following decades…?
And what do you think will be the biggest challenge in portraying this iconic figure?
As mentioned before, the monolith I have come to refer to as “The Sidney”,(Name literally translating to “Wide Island”) is too vast an entity to tie down any one way. My challenge has been to reel in and painfully discard much of the known history of Mr Poitier, for the accuracies of this day and time we walk into NBC offices with him and Bobby in the mid 50’s. Rest assured there’s still there is no shortage of lived experience!
What would you say to anyone thinking of booking to see Retrograde?
Don’t think too long, once it’s gone, it’s gone.