Father Comes Home from the Wars, Royal Court
This is a play in three parts, which sounds more grand than it actually is. It is three short plays in one evening. The trilogy is intended to be the start of another 9 parts (two plays) looking at one family from the civil war to present day.
Parts 1-3 looks at the civil war era following Hero (Steve Toussaint), a slave who is required by his master to join him on the Confederate side on the Civil War. What follows is a three-hour epic looking at Hero’s relationship with his partner Penny (Nadine Marshall), his fellow slave Homer (Jimmy Akingbola) a rival and the man Hero wronged in an effort to gain his freedom. The play has obvious Greek myth comparisons but Hero’s civil war journey is just the backdrop to his journey as a man as he looks at his relationships (with Penny, with his aging adopted father played excellently by Leo Wringer) and Part 1, as Hero weighs up whether to go to war or not is the strongest of the parts as we really get to know this character and his relationship. Toussaint is a real talent, carrying what can be a difficult part and he seems to have great chemistry with his co-stars.
My favourite aspect was the complicated relationship Hero has with his status as a slave. He can’t understand a world where he is worthless because he is free and has an understandable but misplaced loyalty to his master, played by John Stahl in part 2. He is a sadistic and ignorant man, desperate to impress the white man (Tom Bateman) he has captured and when Hero returns in Part 3 so much has changed leading the way to the subsequent parts.
Whilst the production never feels long and has a high amount of energy, mainly in part to the live music and an excellent performance from Dex Lee as Odd-See it can feel wordy, supporting performances aren’t always clear if these are new people or same characters. On an aesthetic level I had issue with Emilio Sosa’s costumes, which felt like they were from different periods.
It is clear that Pulitzer-Prize winner (and nominee for this play) Suzan-Lori Parks is a real talent, her words and ideas flow so succinctly that she is now a must-see playwright and this is a play that seems to meet the vision of the Royal Court but could have worked at the National Theatre. The only fault is that these acts seem to have a lot of filler and a lot of silences and I wish the direction by Jo Bonney had tightened it up as the third part, which ties up the first two can seem to drag.