Sunday, 3 March 2013


Last night I was in Bath, to see August Wilson's  Fences, starring Lenny Henry.

The play is set in Pittsburgh, starting in 1957, and concluding some 7 or 8 years later. Lenny Henry plays the lead character, Troy Maxson, a garbage-man, whose hopes of a professional baseball career were unfulfilled due to segregation.

He's not a lovable character; the play gets darker as it progresses, and we learn that despite Troy's strengths - his close friendship with Jim Bono (Colin McFarlane), his love for his wife, Rose (Tanya Moodie) and his apparent care for his brain injured brother, Gabe (Terence Maynard), he  has very deep flaws, too.

He prevents his son, Cory (Ashley Zhanghaza) from trying for a football scholarship, and we learn that he has been having an affair (resulting in the birth of a child). We also learn, as the play progresses, of his own very bleak past, which goes some way towards explaining, if not excusing, his conduct.

Despite this, the play has a lot of lighter moments, and ends on a hopeful note, with Cory having made a career for himself in the US Marine Corps. Rose gives a very moving description of Troy, and of her life with him, after his death.. "Sometimes where he touched, he bruised".... and of their relationship " I didn't know that to keep his strength I had to give up little pieces of mine" - a portrait of a hard life, creating a hard man.

I freely admit that I booked my ticket on the strength of Lenny Henry's name; having seen his performance as Othello and I wasn't disappointed; he made the character totally believable, but he wasn't alone. The rest of the cast were equally strong, and particular praise has to go to Tanya Moodie, and to Ashley Zhanghaza who gave terrific performances as Troy's wife and son.

The performance I saw was the last one in Bath, but the production is transferring to the Richmond Theatre in London, and to Milton Keynes, so there is still time to see it. It's well worth it.

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