STANDING ovations are not easily won at the Oxford Playhouse, but Lenny Henry deserved his this week for his outstanding
STANDING ovations are not easily won at the Oxford Playhouse, but Lenny Henry deserved his this week for his outstanding performance in Fences.
The stand-up comedian has been acting for a long time, but until recently the roles have been basically his own personality in a radio or TV sitcom.
The last few years have seen him take on meatier dramatic roles — notably playing Othello.But unlike a lot of clowns who want to play Hamlet he has the chops for it.
A good actor swiftly makes you forget you’re watching him as he immerses you in the character. Lenny, playing the ferociously demanding role of Troy in August Wilson’s Fences, takes us in to his deeply flawed world.
He drinks, he womanises, he rejects his friends, he seeks advancement at the cost of everything that should matter. The range and depth of this part is astonishing — it’s not a one-man play by a long way but Troy dominates throughout.
At the end we were left wrung out by the driving passion of the man, never more so than when he stood centre-stage, alone, wielding a baseball bat and roaring at death to take him because he would meet it head on.
The play has an all-black cast for a racially-divided America in the Fifties. The playwright sets a scene where the idea of advancement for black people is hopeless. They take their pleasures in themselves, their friendships and family and they dream of getting out by a fantasy exit such as baseball or American football.
Henry plays a man who can’t stop himself from challenging all of this — even though he can’t read or drive. Finally, he fences himself in from everyone.
Another rare five stars from this reviewer — and as for playing Hamlet? Henry’s too old now, but how about a King Lear some time in the next 10 years? Be in no doubt, he could do it.
Fences is at the Oxford Playhouse until Saturday. Box office 01865 305305 or visit www. oxfordplayhouse.com