What’s it all about?
If the biggest dilemma you faced this morning was what to have for breakfast, then spare a thought for Hero, a slave entrenched in 1862 Civil War America. Offered a verbal promise of freedom should he join his cowardly and callous master in the ranks of the Confederacy to fight against the Union, a faction striving to abolish slavery, Hero is torn between the romance, safety and morality of remaining, and the infatuating pride and promise of heading to war.
An amalgamation of three short plays linked by different settings in Hero’s adventure, Suzan-Lori Parks’ story is by turns hilarious, playful, and touching, while also enrapturing in its sustained deliberation on knife-edge decisions with potentially huge consequences, never failing to keep you guessing which way events will fall – and not a panacea in sight.
Drawing strong parallels with the Odyssey – the chorus-like slave community and the names ‘Hero’, ‘Penny’, ‘Homer’ and even ‘Ulysses’ ring a dramatic bell – the beautiful tale has a touch of the epic about it, while brilliantly sustaining its contrasting tension and warmth throughout.
Who’s in it?
Steve Toussaint is tremendous as a man who often, usually against instinct, feels compelled. Torn between the wishes of his local community, his wife, and his father, and later by his pride, his honesty and his doubt, Steve anchors the production brilliantly as Hero, a man wracked with internal conflict – does he go with his head, or does he go with his heart?
While the ensemble prove a wonderful foil to these dilemmas, looking on and interjecting with both facetious and pointed observations, the performances of John Stahl and Tom Bateman as Hero’s cruel owner, the Colonel, and his captive Union prisoner, Smith, should also be highlighted in their fascinating deliberation of the value of a man and his freedom.
What should I look out for?
Humour that doesn’t so much as shatter the fourth wall as simply not acknowledge it. Through deliberate anachronisms – high-fives, groovy dancing and shouts of “snap!” – and frequent addresses to the audience, meshed perfectly with the show’s cutting flashpoints, it’s easy to find yourself drawn into enjoying the company of the characters, in turn becoming thoroughly invested in their emotional plights.
Subtle but superbly timed and skilful guitar-playing by Steven Bargonetti, underpinning the emotion of each character and scene from the background.
A knife scene to leave audiences on the edge of their seats; on opening night, you could feel a shudder ripple outwards from the stage.
In a nutshell?
Suzan Lori-Parks’ heroic, humorous and heart-rending tale powerfully questions the value of a man’s freedom and morality.
What’s being said on Twitter?
— Rashid Razaq (@RashidRazaqES) September 23, 2016
— stef smith (@stefsmith) September 20, 2016
Will I like it?
Although the title Father Comes Home From The Wars (Parts 1, 2 & 3) might emphasise the dramatic elements of the tale, the show itself is subversively warm, welcoming and yet gut-wrenching, pitching its tone perfectly while establishing its high-stakes decisions, before unveiling their poignant ramifications with aplomb.
The result is an incredibly enjoyable, yet hugely fulfilling and wholesome, visit to Civil War America. Unlike Hero’s decision, the choice as to whether to see Father Comes Home From The Wars is an easy one to make; yes, yes you should.
Father Comes Home From The Wars (Parts 1, 2 & 3) plays at the Royal Court until 22 October. You can book your tickets through us here.