Thursday, 18 Apr 2024

Hamilton West End star says Britain must confront its colonial past

Hamilton star, 26, plucked from obscurity to star in West End hit says Britain must confront its colonial past

  • Jamael Westman described Britain’s imperial history as ‘like mental health issue’
  • Spent 14 months playing the rapping version of founding father Alexander Hamilton at Victoria Palace Theatre
  • Musical is first major role for the RADA student from Croydon, south London
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A rising star of the West End stage has said that Britain must ‘come to terms with’ the problems caused by its colonial empire.

Jamael Westman described the country’s historical exploits as ‘like a mental health issue’, and said it would get worse if it is not addressed. 

He plays the lead role of Alexander Hamilton in the hip hop-inspired historical musical alongside a predominantly black cast playing white revolutionaries.


Prince Harry meets with Hamilton stars Jamael Westman (centre in white) and Rachel John (second from right) after the Royal Variety Performance

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The plot tells the story of the founding fathers taking despotic King George III to war to gain independence from the crown. 

Critics have lauded the cast as well as the story’s relevance to politics, including the remains of Britain’s empire. 

‘It is like a mental health issue and it will get worse if Britain doesn’t come to terms with it,’ Westman told the Observer.

The 26-year-old, who is of Caribbean and Irish heritage, said the musical had changed not only his career but his politics as well.


Harry takes the microphone as he sang a number from the character of his ancestor George III

‘I’ve become fairly obsessed about the Hamilton legacy,’ Westman said, adding that he believes rap can go some way towards curing the UK’s troubled colonial inheritance. 

‘I have moments of despair about it. But [Alexander] Hamilton was young when he faced these things and he wrote himself out of his situation: rap does the same kind of thing.’

The part is Westman’s first major role since leaving the RADA acting school three years ago. 

He was nominated for the Laurence Olivier Best Musical Actor award, but lost out to his co-star Giles Terera who played Aaron Burr (who shoots him in the production).


He was nominated for the Laurence Olivier Best Musical Actor award, but lost out to his co-star Giles Terera who played Aaron Burr

The actor says he wasn’t much of a theatre-goer growing up, saying that the theatre wasn’t particularly accessible in his area of south London.

‘There weren’t many theatres around my area or at least they weren’t as prominent,’ he said in an Observer interview.

‘Whereas you’ve got the adverts for Lion King that was definitely my area, which was definitely a curious thing but you kind of known why they were selling it to my area.

‘Because my area was predominantly black so its like “oh here’s a way in”.’

‘It is not only the cuts in the funding of youth groups, but Brixton and Streatham have been through a lot of change.’

Hamilton is at the Victoria Palace Theatre until 27 July  

The $10 founding father who was killed in a duel by a Vice President: Who was Alexander Hamilton? 


U.S. Founding Father Alexander Hamilton

He was born out of wedlock, stained his reputation with an extra-marital affair and was mortally wounded in a duel. 

In between, U.S. Founding Father Alexander Hamilton, the first Treasury Secretary, laid the foundations of a modern financial system by establishing a national bank, securities markets and the mint.

Crucially, the soldier turned political philosopher also knitted America together by having the federal government assume state debts incurred during the American Revolution in return for being granted expanded fiscal powers.

Hamilton was born on January 11, 1755, on the Caribbean island of Nevis. His father was a Scottish immigrant and his mother, who was married to someone else, was British West Indian. 

Although essentially orphaned at age 13 when his mother died, he made it to the colonies aged 15 to further his education. 

Hamilton was largely influential behind the ratification of the Constitution, due in part to backing the Federalist Papers. 

He was one of the first American politicians to have a highly sex scandal with housewife Maria Reynolds. 

She and her husband plotted the affair in order to scam Hamilton out of large sums of money. 

Hamilton died from a gunshot wound in a duel with Vice President Aaron Burr on July 11, 1804.      


Hamilton died from a gunshot wound in a duel with Vice President Aaron Burr on July 11, 1804

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