There has been a lot of talk about the big musicals coming to the West End this year, with Broadway transfers The Book of Mormon and Once a new Musical now both in their preview period and the stage adaption of Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory set to open in June. The West End is about more than just musicals though. There are a great number of fantastic stage plays currently playing in various West End theatres and it would be impossible to forget Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap, a record-breaking long running production which is now in its 60th year. There are just as many. If not more, plays to look forward to this year as there are musicals and the recently announced Fences is set to be one of them.
A regional revival of August Wilson’s 1983 play opened at the Theatre Royal Bath in February and received a great response. The multi-award winning play, commonly described as ‘one of the greatest American dramas of the 20th century’, began its follow-up UK tour yesterday (18th March) and will make its West End transfer in June, opening at the Duchess Theatre on 19th June and running until 14th September.
The production stars comedian Lenny Henry in the memorable role of Troy Maxim, the bitterly resentful former baseball star-turned garbage man who forms the central point of Wilson’s play. It was part of the playwright’s ten-play cycle which explored the black experience in 20th century America; Fences explored the scene in Pittsburgh in 1957. James Earl Jones led the play’s original debut on Broadway in 1987 and it subsequently won a plethora of awards, including four Tony Awards – one for Best Play – and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. A 2010 Broadway revival, starring Denzel Washington, played a limited 13-week engagement to great acclaim and earned a further three Tony Awards, including Best Revival of a Play.
Fences first appeared in the West End in 1990, in a production at the Garrick Theatre which featured Yaphet Kotto and Adrian Lester in the cast. Now under the creative eye of director Paulette Randall, it is making a return to the West End, along with its leading actor Lenny Henry. Henry has tackled several Shakespearean theatre roles in recent years, having played the title role in the Northern Broadsides production of Othello and Antipholus of Ephesus in the National Theatre’s contemporary telling of A Comedy of Errors. He was highly acclaimed for his role in the former production in particular.
The Duchess Theatre is currently playing host to Alan Bennett’s Untold Stories, so it seems an apt venue for another such renowned dramatist. Fences is just one example of a one-to-watch-out-for play coming to the West End stage in 2013 though. It can be all too easy to overlook straight theatre in favour of those musical theatre giants (something I admit to being guilty of on occasion), but while I am a proudly self-confessed musical theatre fan, I’ve always thoroughly enjoyed sitting through a stage play. It can be an infectiously hilarious or powerfully moving experience, but usually always worthwhile, and there is an extensive list of plays to be seen this year – Fences would be one to add that list.
By Julie Robinson (@missjulie25)
Content updated 1st December 2013