Fences - reviewed

Posted by Laurence Green

Laurence Green sees a compelling revival which taps a deep emotional core and provides a rich and rewarding evening in the theatre

Fences, featuring Lenny HenryThe painful truth of a prejudiced world and its impact on individuals are vividly conveyed in August Wilson’s 1987 Pulitzer Prize winning play Fences, revived in a powerful new production, directed by Paulette Randal, at the Duchess Theatre.

Set in 1957 between the Korean and Vietnam wars the action revolves around, Troy Maxson, a once gifted black baseball player whose dreams were dashed because of the colour of his skin. Now working as a garbage collector, his disillusionment at his treatment and his struggle to stay afloat have turned him into a bitter man. Resentful of a world he believes has denied him chances at every turn, he takes out his anger on his loyal wife and sports obsessed son.

Although this may appear to be a depressing piece it certainly is not. Indeed the play is full of wry humour and dramatic bite as we become involved in the story of a family trying to hold itself together and of what happens when a strong man is robbed of his dreams. The title itself refers to Maxson’s efforts to construct a fence around his Pittsburgh home: he wants to confine his family and keep the rest of the world at bay.

On the debit side Wilson’s writing is at times verbose, laden with a symbolism that is rather too obvious. His epic ambition and the universality of his themes do not quite compensate for the clunky exposition and over-stretched metaphors, especially about baseball.

What gives this production its tremendous force, however, is a superb central performance by Lenny Henry, in a role more demanding than his 2009 professional stage debut in Othello. As Troy Maxson he creates a towering but flawed character full of contradictions: roistering and responsible debauched and dignified, a victim of history and a domestic tyrant, not least in his relations with his son, who has a talent for American football and may hold the key to his getting a better education than Troy ever had. Excellent support is provided by Tanya Moodie as his gracious, sometimes fierce, long-suffering wife, Ashley Zhangazha as his son, desperate to carve out his own life and Ako Mitchell as his war-damaged brother.

In short then, a compelling revival which taps a deep emotional core and provides a rich and rewarding evening in the theatre.

Fences plays at The Duchess Theatre until Saturday 14 September 2013

Box office: 0844 412 4659 | LondonTheatreDirect

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