Lenny Henry in Fences by August Wilson

7.Fences, Lenny Henry and Ashley Zhangazha (c)Nobby Clark[6]

August Wilson’s play Fences is being performed to rave reviews in London’s West End.  It stars Lenny Henry, whose stage debut was a brilliant turn as Shakespeare’s Othello. Nowadays it is easy to separate Henry the comic from Henry the actor.  In a recent appearance on BBC radio 4 Lenny Henry responded to the question by stating that “comedy is my job, acting is my career”.

This leading role sees him playing Troy, a talented ex-baseball player turned garbage man.  He is a fifty-something husband and father trying to be the best he can be but weighed down by his past experiences.  The play is set in 1957 with Troy having lived most of his life in a segregated country. In 1949 Jackie Robinson became the first baseball player to cross the major-league colour line but by then Troy could have been seen as too old to play major league.

Troy is caught between the two very different generations of his father and his son.  He embodies the struggles, pain, losses and successes of his life. Henry’s stage presence means you can’t keep your eyes of him.  Troy is stubborn and very good at covering his emotional turbulence. There is an underlying weariness we get glimpses of as the play continues and we find out more of his past.  But he is also hardworking and decent and wants the comfortable life that society promises. He tries to break through discrimination at work in his desire to become the first black man to drive the garbage trucks.

1.Fences, Lenny Henry and Tanya Moodie (c)Nobby Clark[3]

Troy is the heart of the play.  His relationships with his American football obsessed son Cory, his garbage man buddy Jim and his devoted wife Rose, all serve to give an insight into the man. Cory is at the receiving end of much pent up hurt and anger. Another son, Lyons and Troy’s brother Gabriel, help to create this engaging community of people.

If I were to critique the play it would be about the limited and narrow role the female character had.  There was more action than introspection on her part until the very end when we find out a bit more about her internal workings.  Having said that, her big gesture isn’t sufficiently explained.  I could make some sense of her responses but my male companion was quite surprised at the twists at the end.

Director Paulette Randall has directed plays throughout the UK, as well as for the BBC and Channel 4. She was an Associate Director of the London 2012 Olympics opening ceremony.

August Wilson (1945-2005) was the son of a German man and African American woman.  He has written ten plays, one for each decade of the 20th century. From his early twenties he began writing plays that show the African American experience in all its fullness and humanity. He picked up a Best Play Tony Award and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1987 when James Earl Jones played Troy on Broadway.  Lenny Henry had big boots to fill and they seem to fit him well.


Love Sax and all that Jazz, chapter 2

Love, Sax and all that Jazz, Chapter 2, De Mans Dem

Love, Sax and all that Jazz poster

Love, Sax and all that Jazz poster

Having interviewed the writer, director and local producer behind Love Sax and all that Jazz chapter 2 I was really looking forward to the performance.  I expected it to be very funny and have Christian values but it was much more than that.

Alan Charles created a great cast of characters who were similar enough to be believable as friends and yet different enough to have their own distinct traits and foibles.  The story is centred on Alfred and located in his bar.  He shares his difficulty in choosing between his first-love Louise and his current love and business partner, Kylie.  He shows his confusion as he tries his best to respond to both women and how they feel about him.  This love triangle keeps the audience guessing until the end.

There is much humour amongst the men and women who visit the bar and share their trials and tribulations in love.  Each scene is relevant, informative, and funny and helps you to get to know and care about the characters.  Lisa and Brian have been married for four years and Brian is complaining to all his friends that he is not happy with the amount of intimacy they have.  This gives an opportunity to explore some gender biases from both men and women.  When they finally take some action and meet the online marriage guidance couple – the effervescent Betty and Leroy – the audience is entertained and informed. Not everything is as it first appears.  We all know that relationships are built on communication and this is demonstrated when the couple speak and realise that they have no idea how the other one was feels and how they can work towards meeting the needs in their relationship.

As well as the married, unmarried, waiting to be married and divorced characters there is also Phil, the player of the piece. The only parts of the Bible Phil seems to know are Old Testament stories when people had many wives!  Despite his lifestyle choices the character is likeable and very entertaining. The female equivalent for Phil is the feisty Jennifer who is introduced as having an affair with a married man.

Having not seen other work by Alan Charles I really want to congratulate him for a great script.  Each scene felt natural and relevant to developing the story and characters yet the scenes stand-alone too.  You are kept emotionally engaged and there were a few times when the audience went “aaw” and “noo” in unison as we were carried along.  With a love poem for the ladies there is something for every one.  There is a pivotal bit of performance poetry, which came at exactly the right time and worked really well.  There is a very funny bit near the start when the men have a good laugh at how often women have “headaches”.  Other metaphors, such as the grass being greener elsewhere, are used to good effect.

If you get a chance to see this comedy play then go for it.  It will entertain you whilst keeping your head and heart engaged. The show was put on in a local church and it was lovely to see the pastor and many from the congregation belly laughing throughout.  It has something to say to everyone and we’re all in relationships with others, whatever our status.

The next performance of Love, Sax and all that Jazz chapter 2 is on Sunday 28th April at Broadway Theatre, London.

I believe there are plans to bring Love, Sax and all that Jazz, chapter 1 to Reading and I shall be booking that when it comes around.  Whilst chapter 2 is from Da Mans Dem, chapter 1 is from the ladies’ viewpoint.


Holidays: A time for letting go and embracing

Slowing down

During my recent holidays I found myself becoming more aware of my shifting perspectives in a variety of nuanced ways.  Reflecting on this I could feel myself letting go of certain perspectives and giving others more space in my consciousness.

So although I was worried about children ruining their hearing by standing near to loudspeakers I needed to let go of that because I could not stop it.  On the other hand it took a while to remember how friendly people are and to share greetings with strangers on the buses.

This may only be temporary but it was a good opportunity to shake things up and feel open to new possibilities.  Many people do this all the time whilst some are expecting their holiday locations to provide them with all that they left at home.  How flexible are you when on holiday away from home?So, what was I letting go of and what was I embracing?

Letting go of:

Fun at the fringe

  • Options for the day
  • Work tasks
  • Working and living environments
  • Regular ‘to do’ activities
  • Sources for news and information
  • Familiar viewpoints


  • New daily activities and routines
  • Different choices
  • More reflective time
  • Different environment
  • Having less control
  • Less familiar viewpoints
  • New ways of implementing familiar activities

I am sure there is nothing new here but by consuming less social media I had more time to connect to my awareness in my changing environment. This ranged from different conversation styles to modes of transport to bedtime routines.

Having returned to the familiar environment known as home there is time to reflect on this and what changes might be helpful.  Life feels like a continuous opportunity to fine tune our living, being and doing to be the happiest and most fulfilled we can be.    Often times having a break can help us see what we do well and what we do less well.  Some people avoid breaking away from their daily environment or routines because it scares them so much.

What do you think?  Have you made any changes to your living as a result of a recent break?

Are most plays about unhappy men?


I recently enjoyed Kevin Spacey in Richard III at the Old Vic. I had seen several Shakespearean productions although not specifically this play.  It was a brilliant production directed by Sam Mendes and Kevin Spacey was great in the role.  The team wanted the audience to fall in love with the dialogue so the performance covered an absorbing 3 hours!  They gave us enough time to get hold of the setting and the characters. Kevin Spacey as Richard III was captivating and charismatic.  He was also bitter, angry, manipulative, egocentric and altogether not a nice person.


A couple weeks later I went to see Butley with Dominic West.  This is the story of a university professor and his relationship with his mentee over a period of time.  I am a big fan of Dominic West and his acting was superb.  During the play we find out about the lengths and depths of their relationship, the other people in their lives and gain some insight into the changing power balance between them.  Although it is possible to feel sad for Butley and the situation he finds himself in, one is not really drawn to him.  He is bitter, angry, repressed, emotionally blind, lost and emotionally cold.  It was quite a sad ending in that the character seemed resigned and hopeless.


I was very disappointed with the ending in Butley. I don’t think I need an upbeat happy ending. Also, characters don’t all have to be nice because that is not realistic, but is it too much to hope for depth and transformation?  I wonder if this will become a new criterion for the plays I choose to see.   It may be that I expect more from the theatre than from the film industry.


Have you seen any plays recently and how did you relate to the characters?