August Wilson’s award-winning drama may not have the most inspiring of titles, but the same cannot be said for the production’s central performance.
As with Othello, Lenny Henry proves himself to be more than just the all-round funny man we know so well from television, producing a moving and physical performance as the play’s leading protagonist Troy Maxson.
Troy is a garbageman living in 1950s Pittsburgh. He hasn’t had an easy life and nor has his family… thanks to him. A former baseball player, Troy was born into a racist culture where black sportsmen never had the same chance to succeed as their white counterparts. But now, times have changed and, with two sons, Lyons and Cory, the latter showing promise as an American football star of the future, Troy is unwilling to afford his son the opportunity that he was denied.
The significance of the title – aside from the on stage DIY – comes from one of the play’s most striking lines, which proposes that while some people build fences to keep people out, others build fences to confine them; Troy’s wooden enclosure serving as a metaphor for his attempt to restrict his son’s freedom.
However, by trying to implement the latter Troy inevitably succeeds in the former, pushing Cory away, just as his uncaring father did to him. Even Troy himself is not successfully contained within the parameter of his fence, as the audience – along with his wife – discovers during the play’s gasp-inducing revelation.
The physicality of Henry’s performance is one of the most striking aspects of the production, as he effectively emphasises Troy’s changing moods with movement and varying posture. His tone of voice, too, serves to mirror his fluctuating temperament, interspersing a deep authoritative drone with high-pitched notes of disbelief.
Tanya Moodie gives a similarly powerful performance as his wife Rose, appearing both jovial and stubborn as she mimics her husband’s actions. The duo is supported by five equally flawless cast members, which include Ako Mitchell, who combines outbursts of intense anger with caring gestures as Troy’s mentally ill brother Gabe, and Ashley Zhangazha as the protagonist’s determined son Cory.
Director Paulette Randell draws emotion, be it passion, sadness or joy, out of every scene to create a poignant and humorous production that will stay with you almost as long as Delroy Murray’s memorable blues music, which will undoubtedly be hummed by audience members leaving the Duchess theatre every night until the end of its run in September.