One of the most powerful moments in Henry Box Brown is when a Southern preacher proclaims the equality of all human beings to his slave-owning congregation.
The story is a true one from mid-19thcentury America, where the Virginia slave Henry Brown was helped by people of all races in his escape to freedom.
The Rev James Smith is played by Michael Simon Hall, who has tremendous empathy for his character: “It’s a powerful story with a strong message about human rights, and my part is about a man who takes responsibility and acts.
“He recognises that just because most people accept a situation doesn’t make it right and that you should make a stand, even if you will suffer as a result.
“It must have been intensely difficult for a man like that to turn his back on everything – it meant sacrificing his career, his income and risking his family’s future.”
A significant feature of the A Cappella musical is that it challenges the notion that white people living in the Southern states were automatically pro-slavery.
Indeed, a storekeeper who helped Henry escape was later jailed for six years.
Hall, who returned to acting six years ago after a spell as an HR director, has a strong commitment to the idea of using theatre to promote positive change.
He was the Artistic Director of Pieces of Paper– Aspirations of 9/11, which was based on his experience as a citizen volunteer in the wake of the attack on the twin towers.
He also played the Irish freedom fighter Thomas MacDonagh in Easter Rising 1916conceived by Olivier Award winner Jim Culleton.
These projects and his involvement with Henry Box Brown also fit closely with his personal ethos: “If each of us just sacrificed a little for what’s right I think many of the wrongs that plague the world could be healed.”
Hall’s initial attempts to return to acting were less than promising, with his former agent being gloomy about the prospects for a 45-year-old who had been out of the game for a while.
However, he displayed the perseverance that has characterised his career, and to his pleasure and surprise, he has blossomed on stage, in TV and film.
Recently he completed shooting the lead role in a movie called Women, by Icelandic director Anton Sigurdsson.
And he will soon be appearing opposite Mark Ruffalo in the upcoming HBO series I Know This Much Is True, as well as appearing opposite Maggie Gyllenhaal in the final season of The Deuce for HBO.
Despite the lure of screen acting Hall has a deep love of the stage, and now that Henry Box Brown has achieved so much in Edinburgh, hopes that this will act as a springboard for further success in the USA.
For more information and tickets see here.