Fences is a terrific platform for a talented cast which includes comedian Lenny Henry as Troy Maxson
Fences, set in 1950s Pittsburgh, is a terrific platform for a talented cast which includes comedian Lenny Henry as Troy Maxson, the sanitation worker who had dreamt of a career in baseball but whose personal misfortune and skin colour robbed him of a better existence.
Henry is a touching, sensitive actor with the added bonuses of a terrific ability to lift lines and inject some humour and a gift for mimicry, but always firmly within the parameters of character and taste. If it ever became the Lenny Henry Show, it was to deliver a bitter and introspective soliloquy which drew his audience in.
Troy disapproves of the aspirations of his two sons and blocks his younger son Cory from a baseball scholarship, partly out of jealousy, partly out of fear for his future, which he believes should be like his own: hard graft. We learn why Troy is so autocratic and cruel: his abusive past, a stint in the slammer and struggles in a rapidly changing world. Sadly, these themes are telegraphed far too clearly to get under your skin.
I could just about cope with some badly timed entrances (I imagine to create maximum conflict and tension on stage as a character ‘stumbles’ upon a situation) but the ridiculously extended angst-ridden breakdown in the last act given by the otherwise very talented Ako Mitchell, playing the mentally disturbed war veteran Gabriel, was straight out of a drama school class – excruciating. I wish director Paulette Randall had not been so heavy-handed.
The saviours of this play are a strong cast whose highlight is Colin McFarlane as Troy’s friend Jim Bono. Everything about McFarlane oozed great stagecraft, a solid truthful presence and ability to project with clarity, humour and pathos. His voice had a wonderful resonance and his scenes with Henry were the highlight for me.
Tanya Moodie as Troy’s long-suffering wife Rose was compelling, perfectly balanced between realism and artistry, while Ashley Zhangazha as Cory also gave a truthful performance.
It’s worth going to see this over-long play simply to marvel at Lenny Henry; it’s now time to take him seriously.