I went to see this on Wednesday night, as a part of my London Culture and Performance class for Uni. This was the first show I saw at The Royal Court, and I was really excited to visit this legendary theatre.
Father Comes Home From The Wars, is a series of short plays, depicting the struggle and horror of a black slave, Hero, living though the civil war, fighting for the confederacy on the request of his master. The first play (Act) is set on the plantation with his family; The second is set in the midst of the action of the civil war, with Hero, his master and a captured Union Captain. The final, is set back on the plantation, Hero’s return to his family, or what is left of it.
The show began, with Blues music playing on the stage from the narrator. It was a very Brechtian production, from the moment you walk in; you are immersed in the environment. The set and stage was very naturalistic, right down to the front of the stalls. Also the use of a platform behind the action was very effective, giving an omnipresent aura to the piece. The interesting thing about the costumes, is that they were not historically accurate, compared to everything else in the piece, they were a mix between old-time and modern clothes.
The writing was the main thing of note. The ensemble worked as a second narrator, and generally spoke rhythmically, which was very effective, complementing the constant blues played by the narrator on the banjo. Every time it got a little dark, or sad, there was comedy to lighten the mood. A lot of the jokes, came straight after or were a part of the blatant cruelty of slaves during this era, which meant is was very uncomfortable to watch, especially to laugh at. The whole show, looks at Hero’s change through everything he’s been through, and managed to relate to social and political issues in our day. The importance of one’s name, what it means to be free, what it means to own yourself. One haunting image, was of Steve Toussaint, Hero, with his hands up telling the Union Captain, that he couldn’t run away, because he would have to tell a patrol that he owned himself ,“You think they gone leave me alone?” Which is an all too common image of our past decade, resonating deeply with police brutality in the U.S.
Toussaint took a moment to get into his character, however showed the development of his character extremely well throughout the three acts. Jimmy Akingbola, Homer, kept the audience involved in the performance, and involved in the characters. Dex Lee, who played part of the ensemble, but also as Artsy, the dog, had energetic and playful body language, speaking fast, excitable, he perfectly encompassed the energy of the dog, and managed to keep the audience on the edge of their seats. His child-like naivety, gave the audience a voice on stage, narrating the sequence of the events as they happened.
The final thing, I have to say, is that I have rarely seen such an audible audience reaction to a show during a performance, showing how invested they were in the characters and in what happened to them. The show was politically relevant and explored deeply into the human psyche from that time, and from our own.