I would imagine that,
for most people in the audience for August Wilson's play
Fences, the Pittsburgh setting is unfamiliar. The
story, that of generational clashes and thwarted ambitions, is not.
The main character is Troy, who works as what we would call a dustman
but once harboured dreams of being a professional baseball player.
But this is 1957 in industrial Pennsylvania, and segregation is rife.
At one time in a slightly chequered career Troy
fathered Lyons. Now he is married to Rose and lives with her and
their son Cory in a house which they own (quite a rarity for a Black family at that time). Troy's long-standing friend is Bono, a
man who has learnt when to rock with life's blows and how to keep
confrontation to when it really matters. Troy's brother was a wartime
casualty, left with only half a brain but getting by on fraternal
sympathy and understanding.
When it comes to Troy's
sons, however, understanding is in very short supply. Rose has to
mediate, as one suspects she's spent most of her marriage doing. All
this is conveyed in successive torrents of words, punctuated by
action, aided in Paulette Randall's production by a fine set by
Libby Watson and some remarkable performances.
Lenny Henry's Troy is
a dominating figure, totally credible in his mixture of ambitions,
somewhat devious means of part-achieving these and desire to exercise
his rights both at home and at work. He's matched by Tanya Moodie
as Rose, whose apparent placidity hides an enormous reservoir of good
sense; a woman of whom people can take advantage but who has a
fragile capacity to be hurt. The two boys – Lyons a bit of a
chancer, Cory more forthright – are well contrasted by Peter
Bankolé and Ashley Zhangazha.
Bono is almost the
chorus to this gloss on classic Greek tragedy, one in which the
protagonist succumbs to faults within himself more than to external
circumstances. Colin McFarlane builds the character slowly, from
something of a sidekick into a man who distinguishes what might be
right from what is certainly wrong with understanding but without
emphasising blame. If you wanted an alternative title for the play,
All My Sons would fit admirably. Wilson stands
comparison with Miller.