by August Wilson.
Tour to 14 September 2013.
Runs 2hr 45min One interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 25 March at Oxford Playhouse.
A Black Death of a Salesman? Or is Arthur Miller’s play a White Fences?
With Paulette Randall’s revival of the earliest-written play in August Wilson’s Decalogue of decades – ten plays set one per decade through the 20th-century, exploring the lives of Black Americans – comes the conviction Wilson was the greatest 20th-century American dramatist (he died in 2005); equalled for raw power and bruising reality only by Eugene O’Neill at his best.
Attention focuses on the private life of garbage-collector Troy Maxson, as he comes home with his weekly pay to wife and friend Jim, deals with a mentally unstable relative and grown children, and saws wood for a fence round his garden. Troy has plenty of faults; they gradually emerge from the backyard chat – it’s one of Wilson’s achievements to let significant matters in his plays arise through seamlessly realistic depictions of life.
Troy’s worked hard – like the century he’s in his fifties. Attention focuses on this emotionally complex man: youthful ambitions were thwarted by being Black. He has a smaller triumph in his job, thanks to the union, but the long-term disappointment emerges as he crushes ambition in one of his sons.
It’s the kind of inheritance that’s reinforced by the script, yet also countered by Rose’s response to Troy’s infidelity. If he’s the flawed protagonist Rose is the heroine, stabilising the family, calming outbursts, coming through the undermining of her position as wife, re-establishing herself as mother to a motherless child. While Lenny Henry’s magisterial Troy stands, jokes, shouts, a dominating physical presence, Tanya Moodie’s exquisitely-played Rose sits, moves around in the house backing the set, calming, commenting, supporting – as Rose says she decided to do from day one of meeting her future husband, in accord with the society and the age. Always, she maintains, then asserts, her dignity.
It’s a strong cast throughout, Colin McFarlane a lighter-mannered friend until he’s sent away by Troy. The people Troy’s distanced only come together with his absence, and after two possible end-points, the final moment’s surprisingly given to Terence Maynard’s Gabriel, who may not blow a trumpet resoundingly but senses a glory that has new contexts from other plays in Wilson’s magnificent Decalogue.
Troy: Lenny Henry.
Jim Bono: Colin McFarlane.
Rose: Tanya Moodie.
Lyons: Peter Bankolé.
Gabriel: Terence Maynard.
Cory: Ashley Zhangazha.
Raynell: Crystal Mills/Ella Odedina/Tranae Sinclair.
Director: Paulette Randall.
Designer: Libby Watson.
Lighting: Johanna Town.
Sound: Al Ashford.
Musical Director: Delroy Murray.
Choreographer: ‘H’ Patten.
Voice/Dialect coach: Claudette Williams.
Fight director: Bret Yount.
Assistant director: Ben Bennett.
25-30 Mar Mon-Thu; Sat 7.30pm Fri 8pm Mat Thu & Sat 2.30pm Oxford Playhouse 01865 305305 www.oxfordplayhouse.com
2-6 April 7.30pm Mat Thu & Sat 2.30pm Clwyd Theatr Cymru 0845 330 3565 www.clwyd-theatr-cymru.co.uk
8-13 Apr 7.30pm Mat Wed & Sat 2.30pm Malvern Festival Theatre 01684 892277 www.malvern-theatres.co.uk
15-20 Apr 7.45pm Mat Thu & Sat 2.30pm Cambridge Arts Theatre 01223 www.cambridgeartstheatre.com
19 June-14 September Mon-Sat 7.30pm except 26 June 7pm Mat Thu & Sat 2.30pm Duchess Theatre London 0844 4124659 www.nimaxtheatres.com