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Lenny Henry was already into his fifties – and, as a comedian, a household name - when he picked up a Best Newcomer award for his performance of Othello.

But although he may have come to straight acting pretty late in a busy career, he’s gone on to prove that the accolade marked far more than a flash in the pan achievement.

Now, at almost exactly the same age as Troy Maxson, the Pittsburgh garbage collector at the centre of American playwright August Wilson’s domestic drama (written in 1987 but set thirty years earlier) he gives a powerfully emotional account of a flawed and complex man who knows what he has, but can’t stop himself from destroying it.

It’s a rather unbalanced play which is sometimes over wordy and keeps us waiting rather too long for an unexpected bombshell.  But, before then, Henry and Tanya Moodie’s Rose (his devoted wife of 18 years) establish the loving, supportive warmth of what looks like a solid relationship, and his contentedly boozy payday banter with best buddy Bono (Colin McFarlane) confirms that this ex con has become a reliable, if not altogether satisfied, working man.

Yet, stuck in a dead end job and still resentful that his prowess at baseball was never fully recognised because of his colour, Troy seems set to deprive their teenage son (Ashley Zhangazha’s Cory) of his own chance at being signed up for a career in football and is dismissive of elder son Lyons’ (Peter Bankole) jazz gigs. Even his supportof his war-damaged brother proves to be less than straightforward.

Wilson, who died in 2005, completed a cycle of ten plays, one for each decade, chronicling the African American experience and Paulette Randall’srevival of this Pulitzer prize winning drama does him proud, with Henry’s totally convincing Troy taking his time to build the fence which will bothkeep intruders out and confine his family within.

Duchess, Catherine Street, WC2B 5LA
Tube | Covent Garden/ Charing Cross
Until 14th September
£20.00-£52.50 (Premium seats £65)
nimaxtheatres.com

Photo: Nobby Clark 


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Fences - theatre review: Lenny Henry stars in this play at the Duchess
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