Fences

Fences **** 4/5

Richmond Theatre,

Surrey TW9

Saturday 9th March 2013

Fences, written by August Wilson and directed by Paulette Randall, the Associate Director for the London 2012 opening ceremony, is the story of a family trying to hold itself together and of what happens when a strong man is robbed of his dreams – a universal story which will touch a chord in every heart.”

In particular it tells the story of the troubled father son relationship between Troy Maxson, the ex-baseball player turned garbage man, played by Actor and Comedian Lenny Henry and Cory played by Ashley Zhangazha.

Set in 1957 Pittsburgh it’s a gripping and tension filled drama with the potential for violence often on the verge of spilling over.

Thwarted ambitions

The major dramatic focus of ‘Fences’ lies with Troy and his over strict, over bearing relationship with Cory. He’s dismissive of his dreams of becoming a major league baseball player. Due to strong racism in the 1950’s and 1960’s that prevented black players from progressing and playing in white teams, Troy was blocked from achieving all he wanted in sport and whilst he had aspirations for his son he appeared to knowingly block his ambitions by setting impossible hurdles.

nc-Fences-221 lenny henry, ashley zhangazhaThere was no love or empathy shown towards his son and as a consequence we watch a number of stand up rows between them. One poignantly resulted in the blunt, pointed question from Cory, “Why don’t you love me dad?” Troy paused for a moment before coldly replying, “Where in the law does it say I have to love you?”

There was an almost audible sharp intake of breath from the audience at that shocking and direct response. In Troy’s view he only had a responsibility to provide a roof over his son’s head, to feed and to clothe him.

From thereon there’s little coming back from that stark truth and reality. That unfortunately reminds me of the difficult or non-existent relationships between many African-Caribbean fathers and sons endure. It’s a terrible shame and actually a huge problem and tragedy, not only on an individual personal level, but on a wider societal level (crime, unemployment etc…), as the breakdown in what should be good, positive, beneficial relationships instead just damages the Black family unit,  sons and daughters too includede. The problems repeat themselves when some of those sons turned father’s go on to also abandon their children.

That happens either as a result of them leaving the relationship with the mother and walking away from the responsibility of being a father to their son’s and daughter’s; or like Troy, being present, but through being such a strict disciplinarian and kill-joy there is an enormous gaping chasm where there should be a loving relationship between father and son.

This resulted in the son growing up to hate his father  – so strongly and vividly shown in Act II of the play. Surely that can’t be right.

Not only do we have still have too many poor Father : Son relationships, the knock on effect can be the learned behaviour the creates poor relationships between men and women and fewer and fewer marriages between African-Caribbean men and women. Repeated over generations. There’s no healing, loving and finding a better way to manage these relationships.

I felt Cory was right  to adopt the position he did. In the final analysis, why should he be a hypocrite?

nc-Fences-235 ashley zhangazha, lenny henry, colin mcfarlane

Lenny Henry acts well in the role, although during moments of high tension he doesn’t maintain his American accent and whilst very convincing as a disciplinarian father, the gestures and mannerisms are trademark Lenny Henry.

nc-Fences-317 tanya moodie

His dutiful wife Rose is played superbly by Tanya Moodie. She really comes into her own when confronted by the surprising twist to act two.

This follows a somewhat slower paced Act One and really brings the drama to life with its twists and sub plots.  Some make little sense as there are no visual clues or portrayal on stage to show what has happened and explain the drama played out.

nc-Fences-009 (2) colin mcfarlane, lenny henry

You consider all the relationships or rather non-relationships going on for instance, yet there’s only one main scene between Cory and his brother Lyons (Peter Bankole). Why, isn’t clear. We are not made aware of any tensions or issues between the two. The relationship between Troy and his oldest friend’s such as Jim Bono (Colin McFarlane, above left in photo) and between Troy and his wife are touching to watch.

Without spoiling the story, the unfolding events keep you enthralled and appalled almost in equal measure, making for a satisfying and tense drama, with plenty of warmth and good humour too.

Fences is now on national tour. It is on in Milton Keynes 18th -23rd March  2013

Review ©Tiemo Talk of the Town

Photos ©Nobby Clark

17th March 2013

Lenny Henry was a nominee ‘ Best Comedian Acting’ at the Tiemo Black Comedy Awards 2012 for his role in ‘A Comedy of Errors.’ He may well be a nominee for his role in that play as well as ‘Fences’ at the 2013 awards.

For news about the Tiemo Black Comedy Awards 2013 nominations and awards ceremony please keep an eye on this Blog as well as www.tiemo.co.uk where full news and information on the awards will be posted.

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7 Responses to Fences

  1. William says:

    I agree, good drama with some comedy, I found the play great to watch. I felt Troy didn’t reach his aspirations at all. The play didn’t show much controversial issues regarding racism. The segregation of white men and black men playing sports together was rife in those times and it is no wonder Troy, Lenny Henry, struggled to build fences around his home. Troy’s dream was prevented because of racism, lack of support and the struggles to achieve in those days. The play captured his struggles to raise a family and his resentment in having to do this. He seemed to take pleasure helping others, who he felt, appreciated him. It seemed interesting he seemed jealous that his son Cory should want the same dream he had. You will have to watch the play to see if he had a hidden agenda in preventing his failure becoming more apparent, was he adequately skilled to support his son? It seemed Troy didn’t want to support any of his son’s dreams, Why?????.

    He had a devoted wife, who too didn’t get to fulfil her dreams either. Watching him ignore her pain, was interesting, a dramatic scene, which I thoroughly enjoyed. He tried to bring satisfaction to his life and to diminish some of his pain. In his attempt to do so he inadvertently could be said to have brought joy to his wife.

    Worth watching to find out what happens to Troy and his sons at the end of the play!!

  2. Tiemo Talk says:

    @William – Thanks for your thoughtful review. You have an interesting take on the play, looking for instance at the racial element, which I agree was barely depicted on stage, but seems to underpin the behaviour and shape the attitude of Troy. Perhaps the play could have benefited by some dialogue around that to put events into context.

    Though I suspect jealousy behind Troy’s treatment of his son, for all we know, perhaps he was trying to protect him from what he saw as inevitable disappointments that lay ahead. This would have made him think that no matter how talented his son was, as a Black athlete, he had no chance of achieving his dreams.

    Very strong and dramatic finale that you don’t really seem coming. Definitely worth watching.

  3. William says:

    Yes I agree, having a flavour for the issues that surrounded Troy at the time, makes a good existence.

    Quite right, Troy may well have tried to protect his son from disappointment. Ironic, is that, his son, still ended up being disappointed and was disappointed with his father.

    Interesting debate here, it is more likely that Troy was jealous, he showed fear, sense of loss, resentment, envy which all seem to turn into anger, throughout the play. Lenny Henry played his character well. He performed all of the above, to each drama and situation, artfully to his character’s benefit; demonstrating he has many acting skills. I particularly enjoyed watching him getting emotional; however the character he played was not able to turn that into a positive within his own family, but had to find external enjoyment to provide a positive outcome for all. Interesting……………………………!!!!

  4. I love seeing Lenny Henry out of his comedy comfort zone and over the years he has really pushed his acting boundaries. More of the same, please!

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