After stunning critics and audiences alike with his 2009 unexpected dramatic debut in Othello, funnyman Lenny Henry's current turn in Fences has also proved to be a critical success. August Wilson's classic American play runs at the Duchess Theatre until 14th September. Here is a roundup of what the papers are saying.
Jane Shilling of The Telegraph writes: "This West End transfer of Fences sees Lenny Henry fully become the epic tragedian he was always meant to be." She adds "The cast is uniformly excellent. Crystal Mills as Troy’s seven-year-old byblow, Raynell, deserves a special mention for her sweet voice and unaffected charm, while Henry’s performance as Troy would not be possible without the support of Tanya Moodie as the long-suffering matriarch, Rose, and Colin McFarlane’s brilliantly mercurial depiction of Jim, Troy’s fellow criminal, who becomes his moral compass. Standing (so to speak) on their shoulders, [Henry] is simply remarkable."
Henry Hitchings of The Evening Standard says Henry is on "superb form", noting "running two and three-quarter hours, Fences is dense and unsettling. It’s brave to programme such a meaty, daunting piece during the summer months. But it is worth seeing for Henry’s immense performance, which switches compellingly from humour to fury and from hopefulness to piercing disillusionment."
The Guardian's Michael Billington points out "Given that James Earl Jones created the part, there are some big boots to fill and I can only report that Henry confirms he is an actor of massive presence and emotional power." He continues "Henry gives us the man in all his rich complexity...as well as the formidable energy, Henry gives us the buried anger of a man who knows he was sold short in a white-dominated world. Even better is Henry's capacity for stillness, the sure sign of a first-rate actor. In the play's best scene, Troy confronts his wife with a shameful confession: at this point Henry shows the stricken face of the guilty before lapsing into a self-justifying apologia. It's a performance that encompasses the whole character, including the rise and fall of [his character]Troy."
Paul Taylor of The Independent asserts that his portrayal "cements Henry's status as a serious actor." He goes on "Henry brings a strong personal warmth to the part but also forcefully exposes Troy's discomfiting and unlovely contradictions as the betrayal of his wife and his brain-damaged brother come to light. Authentically inhabiting the character's body language as well as his speech habits, he swings with compelling conviction between robust playful humour, dogged emotional denial, eruptive fury and the kind of defiance that periodically makes Troy taunt the figure of Death with a baseball bat."
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