Live Review: August Wilson’s ‘Fences’ (Duchess Theatre, London)

Lenny Henry has come a long way since the 1980s; with his days of slapstick comedy far behind him, he’s fast becoming a reputable name in serious theatre.

ImageLenny Henry the comedian in the 1980s

Following his critically acclaimed performance as Othello back in 2009, Henry has recently taken on the role of the bitter and wounded patriarch, Troy Maxson in August Wilson’s award-winning drama, ‘Fences’. Set in a period of barbed peace, between the Korean and Vietnam wars, ‘Fences’ is a story of domestic struggle and the fragmentation of man.

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Although the play gets off to a fairly slow start as the family’s background is unravelled through a series of drunken, slurred exchanges between Troy (Henry) and fellow garbage collector, Jim Bono, the dialogue is strong and the entrance of new characters, namely Troy’s teenage son, Cory (Ashley Zhangazha),  soon accelerates the pace.

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Henry’s performance is outstanding as the play sees Troy grow from a failed athlete to a despotic father who’s determined to crush his son’s dreams in the world of sport. Henry manages to make Troy truly repellant whilst also bringing warmth to the character, which forces the audience to perceive him with, if not compassion, at least pity. Tanya Moodie makes a similarly excellent and fiercely poignant performance as Rose (Troy’s wife).

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Whilst all members of the cast have a secure tonal grasp of the Pittsburgh “Hill District” accent circa 1957, key parts of the dialogue are sometimes lost and replaced by generally effective, but occasionally stereotypical gestures. That said, the immense physical performances by all members of the cast deserves praise and makes for a very entertaining piece of theatre.

VERDICT: Dealing with issues of betrayal, resentment and racial discrimination, August Wilson’s play retains a universal power that is enhanced by the intimate setting of the Duchess Theatre and a uniformly excellent cast.

‘Fences’ runs until 14th September at the Duchess Theatre, London. You can buy tickets via the theatre’s box office or London Theatre Direct: http://www.londontheatredirect.com/play/1210/Fences-tickets.aspx

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