Fences **** 4/5
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.
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.
There 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?
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.
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.
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.