The Royal Court Theatre is the producing house par excellence when it comes to epic new writing, tackling intense subjects tastefully and professionally, never failing to disappoint. Father Comes Home from the Wars is no exception to this, as multi-award winning writer Suzan-Lori Parks poetically tells a story of slavery within 19th Century American civil war.
What makes this story so captivating is the way it is told. The poetics and surrealism within the text provide a platform for a cast of impeccably talented actors to treat this story with the respect that it deserves. The piece starts strong, gaining a laugh before a line is even spoken. The actors at points comfortably address the audience, an immediate and deliberate attempt to engage the audience from Parks. This introduction to the surrealism woven throughout the piece is quite unexpected, but pleasantly surprising. The case with surrealism is that it works best if either the piece deviates from normality in a strong manner, throughout the whole play – or not at all. Saying this, it is really refreshing to see a production that focuses on mimicked events from history with a seasoning of artistic flair. The use of music, chorus, breaking the fourth wall, even the human portrayal of a dog, adds a touch of originality and seasons this production well.
It must be said that Odyssey the dog, played by Dex Lee, is a highlight from the performance. Lee absolutely embodies the characteristics of a dog without making it overly literal. His vocal work is outstanding, highlighting certain words to reflect aspects and emotional responses of a dog without impersonating, which works impeccably. He carefully displays the naivety, purity and innocence of a dog whilst narrating incidents that take place without action; it is an effective story-telling tool as well as being one of the most memorable parts of the show due to how Lee handles the text.
As far as the cast is concerned, Steve Toussaint takes a while to break into the role of Hero, but begins to enjoy his performance as it goes on. Nadine Marshall and Jimmy Akingbola however give standout performances and work extremely well with each other. Marshall takes risks with every single line, making every word completely enticing and creating vivid imagery. Akingbola is extremely strong, showing such passion in his speeches and with humour mixed at a perfect level.
This isn’t an ordinary piece about the struggles of slavery; if possible, it is so much more than that. It challenges the worth of freedom for a slave, and poses difficult questions for the characters which we see unwind throughout. What’s it like to choose your own name? What is freedom if it doesn’t guarantee safety or happiness? Father Comes Home from the Wars is a story that is so wonderfully told; this gem of a production is definitely not a show to be missed.
Father Comes Home from the Wars is playing at the Royal Court until 22nd October.
Photo: Alastair Muir