Lenny Henry makes a welcome return to the stage to star as one of American drama’s most unforgettable characters in August Wilson’s powerful classic, FENCES, which opens its UK tour at the Theatre Royal Bath from Wednesday 20th February to Saturday 2nd March. Directed by Paulette Randall, the cast also features Terence Maynard, Colin McFarlane, Tanya Moodie, Peter Bankole and Ashley Zhangazha.
August Wilson’s Fences is one of the greatest American dramas of the 20th century, winner of a Pulitzer Prize for Drama, the New York Drama Critics’ Award and two Tony Awards for Best Play in 1987 and Best Revival in 2010. Set in 1950s Pennsylvania, before the Civil Rights Movement, it is the story of what happens when a strong man is robbed of his dreams and of a family trying to hold together despite the odds, a universal story which will touch a chord in every human heart. Playing the towering central character of tragic hero Troy Maxson, Lenny Henry follows in a distinguished line of performers which includes James Earl Jones, Laurence Fishburne and Denzel Washington.
Once a gifted athlete, Troy Maxson was denied his chance at the big time by the policies of segregation; he now struggles through daily life in a dead-end job in Pittsburgh. A proud, gregarious and hard-working breadwinner, he is loved and respected by his family and friends; but Troy is also a stubborn hypocrite, blighted by his past and resentful of a world he believes has denied him chances at every turn. Fearful of history repeating itself, he takes out his frustrations on Cory, his ambitious, sports-obsessed son, and Rose, his compassionate, straight-talking and loyal wife. The complex dynamics that both tear families apart and hold them together are laid bare as Troy, blind to his own mistakes, single-mindedly risks everything he holds dear.
Written in 1983, Fences is part of August Wilson’s Pittsburgh Cycle. Writing in the grand tradition of Eugene O’Neill and Arthur Miller, Wilson’s cycle of plays about the African American experience is widely considered to be one of the most significant contributions to American drama and has won just about every significant award possible. His plays have been produced all over the world.
Lenny Henry last performed at the Theatre Royal Bath in 2009 when he starred as Othello, making his stage acting debut in Northern Broadsides touring production with a performance which was unanimously acclaimed. He won the Best Newcomer Award at the Evening Standard Theatre Awards for his portrayal of Shakespeare’s great tragic role and the production transferred to Trafalgar Studios in London’s West End. Since then Lenny’s stage success has continued in the National Theatre’s 2011 production of The Comedy of Errors. One of Britain’s best-loved entertainers whose television credits span more than thirty years and include The Lenny Henry Show, Chef!, Hope and Glory, Three of a Kind and Tiswas, Lenny is also well-known as one of the founding figures of Comic Relief. His numerous awards include the BBC British Personality of the Year and the Edric Connor Inspiration to Black People Award.
Tanya Moodie’s many television credits include Sherlock, Lewis, Skins, The Street, Silent Witness and The Clinic. For theatre, Tanya’s work includes performances with the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Royal Court Theatre, and the National Theatre. She has previously appeared at the Theatre Royal Bath in The Vagina Monologues in 2002.
Terence Maynard has recently finished filming All You Need Is Kill with Tom Cruise and All Things To All Men. His many television and film credits include A Bunch of Amateurs with Burt Reynolds; Guy Ritchie’s Revolver; Merlin; DCI Banks; Miranda Hart’s Joke Shop; Empire; Judge John Deed; and Father and Son. His theatre credits range from the leading role of Billy Flynn in Chicago in the West End to As You Like It for the Bristol Old Vic and The Threepenny Opera for the Donmar.
Colin McFarlane has appeared in almost 100 films, television and cartoon series. He played the role of Commissioner Loeb in Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, and on television his numerous credits range from Judge John Deed and The Fast Show to Torchwood and Holby City. He is also the voice of ITV’s The Cube. On stage he has performed with the Royal Exchange, Donmar Warehouse and the National Theatre and he won the Time Out Award for Best Actor in Two Horsemen in 1994. He last performed at the Theatre Royal Bath in Harold Pinter’s The Lover/The Collection in 1998. The cast also features Peter Bankole and Ashley Zhangazha.
Multi award-winning playwright August Wilson’s most famous work is a series of ten plays called The Pittsburgh Cycle – each play is set in a different decade. He won the Pulitzer Prize twice for plays from this series; in 1985 for Fences – which also received a Tony Award – and in 1990 for The Piano Lesson. Fences was further recognised for the recent Broadway production in America featuring Denzel Washington and Viola Davis with three Tony Awards in 2010 for Best Revival of a Play, Best Performance by an Actor in a Play and Best Performance by an Actress in a Play. This new production marks the first major revival of Fences in the UK since 1990. Following August Wilson’s death in 2005, the Virginia Theatre in New York was renamed in his honour, the first Broadway theatre to be named after an African-American. He is also honoured by the August Wilson Center for African American Culture in Pittsburgh and August Wilson Way in Seattle.
One of the UK’s leading female theatre directors, Paulette Randall is a BAFTA Award nominee, writer, director, and producer and was the associate director, working alongside Danny Boyle, for the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics. She has previously directed five of August Wilson’s plays in the UK to great acclaim, including Radio Golf, The Piano Lesson, Two Trains Running, King Hedley II and Gem of the Ocean – all at London’s Tricycle Theatre. A former artistic director of Talawa Theatre Company, Britain’s primary Black-led theatre company, Paulette has also directed in London for Theatre Royal Stratford East, the Almeida Theatre, the Royal Court Theatre, in the West End and at theatres across the UK. Her television work includes Desmond’s for Channel 4 and The Real McCoy for BBC2.
Fences is produced by Theatre Royal Bath Productions, whose recent productions include; Relatively Speaking starring Felicity Kendal and Kara Tointon, which returns to Bath in April before the West End; The Judas Kiss starring Rupert Everett, which played Bath last October and is now running in the West End; Quartermaine’s Terms starring Rowan Atkinson, which played Bath last month prior to the West End; and a national tour of Abigail’s Party, which visits Bath in April.
FENCES appears at the Theatre Royal Bath from Wednesday 20th February to Saturday 2nd March. Tickets are available from the Theatre Royal Bath Box Office on 01225 448844 or online at www.theatreroyal.org.uk