Father Comes Home from the Wars (Parts 1, 2 & 3)

Theatre, Drama
4 out of 5 stars
4 out of 5 stars
(4user reviews)
 (© Tristram Kenton)
© Tristram KentonNadine Marshall (Penny), Dex Lee (Odyssey Dog) and Jimmy Akingbola (Homer)
 (© Tristram Kenton)
© Tristram KentonSarah Niles (Third), Jason Pennycooke (Second), Dex Lee (Odyssey Dog) and Leo Wringer (The Oldest Old Man)
 (© Tristram Kenton)
© Tristram KentonSteve Toussaint (Hero) and Leo Wringer (The Oldest Old Man)
 (© Tristram Kenton)
© Tristram KentonSteve Toussaint (Hero), Nadine Marshall (Penny) and Leo Wringer (The Oldest Old Man)
 (© Tristram Kenton)
© Tristram KentonLeo Wringer (The Oldest Old Man), Nadine Marshall (Penny) and Steve Toussaint (Hero)
 (© Tristram Kenton)
© Tristram KentonSteve Toussaint (Hero), Leo Wringer (The Oldest Old Man) and Nadine Marshall (Penny)
 (© Tristram Kenton)
© Tristram KentonSarah Niles (Third), Nadine Marshall (Penny), Steve Toussaint (Hero) and Leo Wringer (The Oldest Old Man)
 (© Tristram Kenton)
© Tristram KentonNadine Marshall (Penny), Jason Pennycooke (Second), Steve Toussaint (Hero), Jimmy Akingbola (Homer), Leo Wringer (The Oldest Old Man), Sarah Niles (Third) and Dex Lee (Odyssey Dog)
 (© Tristram Kenton)
© Tristram KentonSteven Bargonetti (Music Direction) and Steve Toussaint (Hero)
 (© Tristram Kenton)
© Tristram KentonJimmy Akingbola (Homer), Steve Toussaint (Hero), Sibusiso Mamba (Leader/First Runaway), Sarah Niles (Third) and Jason Pennycooke (Second)

This hip off-Broadway smash transfers to the Royal Court

Suzan-Lori Parks’s ‘Father Comes Home from the Wars (Parts 1, 2 & 3)’ is a welcome return to the sort of sprawling black American epic we don’t see so much in the Royal Court’s Downstairs theatre now that current boss Vicky Featherstone has gone all avant-garde on our asses. 

Loosely speaking it’s a retelling of Homer’s ‘The Odyssey’ set during the American Civil War, with Odysseus replaced by Hero (Steve Toussaint), a loyal-to-a-definite-fault Texas slave who leaves his wife Penny at home to help his master fight Yankees in exchange for his freedom. 

Jo Bonney’s recast off-Broadway transfer production is indeed in three parts, with the bookending sections following Hero and an anachronistically dressed (sneakers, baseball caps) group of slaves at ‘home’ on their master’s farm in far west Texas, spouting poetic dialogue. It is a rich, complicated, unsentimental play with an awful lot to say about how the system of slavery has done permanent damage to the African-American collective identity; and it asks to what extent freedom is even possible for black people in America. It’s clearly horribly topical, though not furiously political: Parks’s poetic language, songs, light magical realism (there’s a talking dog!) and general audacity account for much of the play’s appeal. 

The standout section is part two, set during the war, where we meet Hero’s master the Colonel (a magnificent turn from John Stahl) as he taunts captured Yankee captain Smith (Tom Bateman), whom he intends to ransom, and who has tried to persuade Hero to ditch his master. Of the three sections, this has the most gripping, self-contained plot, a fascinating psychological power-play, with a cracking twist at the end. Stahl is magnetic as the cackling, unstable Colonel, a sort of mad Zeus who sings ribald songs, glugs from a hip flask, plays sadistic games and breaks into tears when he contemplates losing Hero. 

Despite its clear resonances with the world of 2016, there is something a little cerebral and un-gritty – perhaps even twee – about ‘Father Comes Home…’, and there’s a certain lack of emotional heft. But it’s fantastically imaginative and splendidly acted by an all-Brit cast (great work from dialect coach Hazel Holder). And if there’s a slight chill to the writing, it’s warmed by Parks’s songs and the heroic efforts of Steven Bargonetti, the show’s music director, on stage throughout with a kinetic guitar soundtrack.

Average User Rating

4 / 5

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This play was far too long for one sitting, I will only give three straight hours for Shakespeare!

My feelings toward the play itself is hard to put a finger on, I developed an instant dislike for the main protagonist. The character was weak and I found myself apathetic about his plot. Which I suppose proves how wonderfully acted it was but overall, I could not invest in any of characters and I felt dissatisfied by the anti-climactic ending.


If you read any of my reviews you'll know that I love the Royal Court.

Well Father Come's Home really delivers. It's engaging, emotional and challenging. I was so absorbed that towards the end I literally, involuntarily shouted 'no' to an event on stage. 

It's a long play and pretty intense. I was exhausted going in and drained - but in a good way coming out. The play examines the complexity of slavery and relationships. The distorting effect it had on everything and everyone. It is really clever in how the characters tell the story and relate history and societal positions whilst being humorous and not pretentious.


The Royal Court used to be the theatre for new writing. It is now very hit or miss (more miss in my opinion). However this production of "Father Comes Home" makes me forgive them for the many duff shows I've sat though in recent years. "Father Comes Home" is long, leisurely, and fascinating, a great production, with a perfectly coordinated cast.  Although it is unfair to single out any performer I have to say I found Dex Lee truly hilarious as "the dog". 


A very entertaining history piece set during the American civil war. Very well acted in three great scenes that tell the story of Hero, who has a connection to his slave master Colonel, thus joining his regiment. Lovely live acoustic guitar accompany this play to add something atmospheric.