‘Fences’ at the Duchess Theatre

2013-08-31 12.29.47This production of August Wilson’s ‘Fences‘ has received universally positive reviews in the press, and those journalists who award star ratings have generally given it four.  It was therefore something of a disappointment that my conversation at the interval with K, my theatre buddy, was on the question of whether this was or was not, in our opinions, as bad as, or worse than ‘August, Osage County’.

It was perhaps the coincidence of the word ‘August’ in the name of Fences‘ playwright and the name of the other play, but Tracy Letts’ work, which I endured at the National Theatre a few years ago, is broadly my low water mark of tedious, over long examinations of family dysfunction in contemporary (ish) US drama.

The result of our discussion was a draw.  K thought Fences was worse, I disagreed (but then I did truly loathe Osage County).

This was the first August Wilson play I have seen, although K had seen ‘Joe Turner’s Come and Gone’ in New York, coincidentally on the famous occasion, in 2009 or thereabouts, when POTUS took FLOTUS on a date night to the theatre, making it, K, observed, quite difficult to leave at the interval, even though she didn’t care for the play.

Having said all of that, we did stay and watch ‘Fences’ through to the end.  The acting in the production was very good; Lenny Henry does occupy the stage with confidence, including great moments of stillness, and creates a blustering, unsympathetic character very effectively; and Tanya Moodie as his wife had a fantastic voice and tone.

The problem for me, was the play.  It was a portrait of a self obsessed, self pitying, disappointed man, and the damage he did to the people associated with him.  There was no development of that character other than the passage of time and the revelation of even more unpalatable events. He wasn’t tragic in that he had no sense of his own fallibility and frailty, and appeared to learn nothing over the course of the play.  He gave some really self pitying speeches, punctuated with threats to his sons and his wife.  It was a bleak portrait of a particularly nasty type of a man.

It was also perhaps unfortunate that it seemed that many members of the audience had come expecting to see a comedy, and therefore, primed for a laugh, started rattling away as soon as Henry appeared on stage, and continued periodically, even at astonishingly inappropriate moments.

All those four stars are still a mystery to me.

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  1. ‘A Doll’s House’ at The Duke of York’s Theatre | Reading and Writing

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