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28 August 2013


West End Production
Duchess Theatre, London
Wednesday 28th August 2013
Fences is the sixth play in August Wilson's ten-part Pittsburgh Cycle exploring the development of African-American race relations.  In its 1987 opening it won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the Tony Award for Best Play, and is still acclaimed as one of the "great American plays".  The plot explores the life and family of Troy Maxson, an ex-convict, ex-baseball player and current trash collector, living a poor but respectable life with is wife, Rose. 
Troy is a gut-wrenching, soul-searching, immensely layered character, and is given an interpretation by Lenny Henry that is nothing short of magnificent.  His characterisation is pitched ideally and developed subtly throughout to a truly affecting climax.  Henry's clear determination to transform his reputation from silly comedian to serious actor is paying off, and this production has followed on from his brushes with Shakespeare to propel his talent to compare convincingly with that of other contemporary actors at the height of their profession. 
He is flanked in this production by a cast of talented fellow performers.  In particular, his long-suffering wife Rose is played with intensity by Tanya Moodie.  Opening with a light, carefree front on the put-upon character of Rose, she builds up to a torrent of emotion by the climax of the second act that stands up to Henry's performance admirably.
The emotional depth, static pace and epic length of this play, which takes an age to build to any kind of incident, make for a tough evening for the audience.  The investment is necessary to make the drama of the script's turning point so moving, although the effort involved is somewhat exhausting.  Once away from the physical discomfort of such a lengthy time in a seat however, the hauntingly effective performances remain etched in the memory and are worth the lengthy scenes and drawn-out explanations.

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