Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Humour and Pathos in Lenny Henry's tale of Home and Showbiz

Dudley  in the West Midlands seems like an unlikely place for a massive star to be born, but the feature length story "Danny and the Human Zoo" , a "almost autobiographical"  story of the Black Country coming of age of one Lenny Henry, whose work has stretched from the utterly silly to the immensely serious. I suspect playing Othello was a career high for example.

Told with warmth from start to finish, cast with a group of familiar faces that made you just happy to see them again and a story not so much of a fight against adversity more a fight to get out of the normalcy of home life and realising that really roots are most important of all,  It was an utter delight.

Danny is bullied at school so he escapes into himself by doing impressions of the stars of the day. 

He has good friends, a militant police officer sister who has had to find her own footing as a female Black WPC whose threat to stick her truncheon "up the nose hole" ( insert Dudley accent) of one of Danny's tormentors was so funny.  Brought up by a strident and proud mother who can talk for England, then there is is monosyllabic  welder father( played by Lenny himself) whose nuggets of wisdoms, whilst brilliant are rare and Danny feels removed from his Father because of it.

Of all the relationships here it is that between Danny and his mother and Father that has the most emotional heart, grounded in a deep understanding of what made his family tick and if the revelation here is true in Lenny's real life, then the subject is dealt with with a deft subtly of performance by Kascion Franklin, Natasha Gordon and Henry. The scenes where Danny has heart to hearts with his parents are the core of the piece.

The scene at the funeral was both moving and heartwarming.

As summer approaches, he and his pals take up work at the Queen Mary Ballroom to get some pin money and a chance entry into a talent competition starts what for Mr Henry was a meteoric rise. For Danny, he gets a highly unsuitable girlfriend in a rather boozy and slightly gold digging Bridget, played with playful zeal by Harry Potter star Evanna Lynch. the links to potter do not end there as both of the Phelps Twins of Weasley fame play characters at the QM too. 

It is obvious to all that he is better suited to friend and confidante Cherry with the outstanding Afro, but the path to young love never runs true.

Arthur Darvill is rather brilliant as the third rate agent who gets Danny to New Faces on ITV and a job with entertainment manager Richard Wilson whose black and white minstrel show is perhaps not the best place for a lonely, slightly angry, vulnerable young boy to end up , his family is unhappy that he would be in such an openly racist  show, his anger is pushing firm firm friends away and  so after speaking to his dad and getting some classic Cricket related advice, his final show before an unceremonious sacking is one to behold! 

This was a couple of hours well spent, I was transported, transfixed and more importantly convinced by the tale and I truly hope Mr Henry will pen more of his/Danny's story so we can see more of the Fearon Family.

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