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Review: King Hedley II at Theatre Royal Stratford East

PUBLISHED: 17:37 03 June 2019

Lenny Henry (Elmore) and Aaron Pierre (King) in King Hedley II. Picture: Richard Davenport/The Other Richard

Lenny Henry (Elmore) and Aaron Pierre (King) in King Hedley II. Picture: Richard Davenport/The Other Richard

The Other Richard

The hopes and dreams of two generations trying to survive in 1980s America are explored in Theatre Royal Stratford East's production of King Hedley II.

Martina Laird (Ruby) and Lenny Henry (Elmore). Picture: Richard Davenport/The Other RichardMartina Laird (Ruby) and Lenny Henry (Elmore). Picture: Richard Davenport/The Other Richard

Aaron Pierre is excellent in the titular role, playing a tormented ex-convict who wants to raise enough money to set up a video store with his friend Mister (Dexter Flanders).

Lenny Henry also impresses as Elmore, an old friend of King's estranged mother Ruby (a brilliant Martina Laird), with the smooth-talking hustler raising several laughs from the audience.

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The play touches on some difficult subjects, including a particular powerful monologue by King's wife Tonya (Cherrelle Skeete) on why she wants to abort their unborn child rather than bring him into a dangerous world where he could easily be killed.

Aaron Pierre (King) and Cherrelle Skeete (Tonya). Picture: Richard Davenport/The Other RichardAaron Pierre (King) and Cherrelle Skeete (Tonya). Picture: Richard Davenport/The Other Richard

And although the play, by August Wilson, is set in the 1980s, many of the topics covered still feel relevant today.

At almost three and a half hours long, including the interval, the play does feel a little stretched in parts, especially as the whole thing is set in the back garden of King's house.

This means that a lot of the action is recounted rather than shown - until a particularly dramatic ending, that is, and one that leaves the audience reflecting.

King Hedley II is at Theatre Royal Stratford East until Saturday, June 15. For tickets, visit stratfordeast.com.

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