by August Wilson.
Duchess Theatre 3-5 Catherine Street WC2B 5LA To 14 September 2013.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Thu & Sat 2.30pm.
Runs: 2hr 40min One interval.
TICKETS 0844 412 4659.
Review: Carole Woddis 27 June.
Thwarted ambition brilliantly succeeds.
Nearly thirty years separate James Baldwin’s The Amen Corner or Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun, from August Wilson’s Fences – thirty years in which the lives of African-Americans saw monumental changes.
The 1950s saw segregation laws beginning to be dismantled but in Fences – the fourth in Wilson’s extraordinary one-play-per-decade charting of the African-American experience through the 20th century – written in 1985 but set in 1957 Pittsburg, it is racial prejudice that still reigns supreme.
Wilson, who died in 2005, is hailed alongside Eugene O’Neill and Arthur Miller as one of American’s finest purveyors of realistic epic family drama. And certainly in the character of Troy Maxson, garbage collector and once aspirational baseball player, Wilson created one of the great totemic everyman figures who, like Miller’s Willy Loman, expresses the American dream turned sour.
Like A Raisin in the Sun, the destruction of that dream drives the narrative, in this case the relationship of Troy to his surroundings and his loved ones: his wife Rose, his sons Cory and Lyons, his war-scarred brother Gabriel and his best friend Bono.
In Troy’s anecdotes and family inter-action, Wilson builds a whole world of history, disappointment, fury and betrayal as outside society impinges and warps his personality; all set within a back porch surrounded by a broken fence – a fitting symbol for Troy’s attempt to keep the world out and those close to him, fenced in.
In Paulette Randall’s vibrant production, Lenny Henry as the iconic Troy is a revelation. True, there are times when you sense him surfing rather than drawing out Wilson’s billowing dialogue that swells with homespun wisdoms in a poetic vernacular hewn from the deepest recesses of the African-American soul. But he also utterly inhabits this flawed, embittered giant, deprived of a professional sporting career by the prejudice of his time and refusing to allow his son the sporting opportunity he never had.
Wonderfully supported by Colin McFarlane (Bono) and Tanya Moodie (Rose), praise to Nimax theatres for this rare incursion of a Black play into the West End. Let’s hope it finds its audience. It certainly deserves to.
Troy: Lenny Henry.
Jim Bono: Colin McFarlane.
Rose: Tanya Moodie.
Lyons: Peter Bankolé.
Gabriel: Ako Mitchell.
Cory: Ashley Zhangazha.
Raynell: Crystal Mills, Ella Odedina, Tranae Sinclair.
Director: Paulette Randall.
Designer: Libby Watson.
Lighting: Johanna Town.
Sound/Music: Al Ashford.
Composer: Delroy Murray.
Choreographer: `H’ Patten.
Voice/Dialect coach: Claudette Williams.
Fight director: Bret Yount.
Assistant director: Ben Bennett.
World premiere of Fences was at Yale Repertory Theatre in April 1985; it transferred to at 46th Street Theater, New York, directed by Lloyd Richards, 26 March 1987.
First British production, presented by Bill Kenwright, was at the Garrick Theatre, London Sept 1990 with Yaphet Kotto as Troy and Adrian Lester as Cory.
First performance of this production was at Theatre Royal Bath 20 Feb 2013. First performance of this production at the Duchess Theatre London was 19 June 2013.