Review of Father Comes Home From the Wars at the Royal Court

Our critics rating: 
Average press rating: 
Monday, 26 September, 2016
Review by: 
Mark Shenton

The title Father Comes Home from the Wars (Parts 1, 2 and 3) is slightly cumbersome, but the play it contains is meaty and mighty and indicates that this trilogy is part of a wider scheme. Its playwright Suzan-Lori Parks -- who won a Pulitzer for her 2001 play Topdog/Underdog that also received its UK premiere at the Royal Court -- is planning on adding to it. Meanwhile there's plenty to chew on in this long evening (it runs for three hours); it is both utterly engrossing and rewarding, as well as beautifully acted, too.

Its a play that confronts and humanises the dark smudge of slavery in America, as it portrays an enslaved man called Hero who in 1862 is promised freedom by his master if he joins him fighting for the southern Confederacy against the Yankees in the American civil war. But is it an empty promise -- made to be broken like so many promises before?

And what price will freedom come at anyway? In one of the play's most moving sections, Hero recognises that the price on his head as a slave actually means he has a quantifiable value: “Seems like the worth of a coloured man, once he’s made free, is less than his worth when he’s a slave." It's why he doesn't try to escape: "I’m worth somethings, so me running off would be like stealing."

Steve Toussaint has a rugged strength but also vulnerability as Hero; and he's superbly complemented by an ensemble that includes John Stahl as his master, Nadine Marshall as his partner Penny, Tom Bateman as a Yankee prisoner that is caught, and Dex Lee as Hero's runaway dog who has a narrative voice of his own.

This is a powerful, poetic play about slavery and the meaning and price of freedom.


What the Press Said...

"A bit much? Perhaps. A touch overlong? “True dat”, as the slang phrase, utilised here, goes. But Parks does have something to say, and has found a loose-limbed and lyrical way of saying it."
Dominic Cavendish for The Telegraph

"It may be an unfashionably long evening – but it captures the complexity of a civil war where black Americans found themselves fighting on opposing sides and where, although freedom was the ultimate goal, its achievement was fraught with hazards that continue to this day."
Michael Billington for The Guardian

"You never stop admiring the ambition and creative confidence."
Paul Taylor for The Independent

External links to full reviews from popular press
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