The Pulitzer-winning American playwright Suzan-Lori Parks goes back to the Greek tragedies and Homer’s Odyssey to find a format for her play, Father Comes Home From the Wars (parts 1, 2 & 3), which is set during the American Civil War.

The main characters have Greek names and there is also a chorus. The artificiality, a classical and colloquial mix, gives the drama, serious and comic, a fable-like quality; and that is its special appeal.

Jo Bonney’s production at Royal Court Theatre has a fine ensemble of actors who get it exactly right.

Hero (Steve Toussaint, a man of stature), the slave of a Southern white landowner, is promised his freedom if he will fight on the Confederate side with his master. Can he trust his master to keep his word?

The story is told in three parts. In the first, the chorus and a very old man take bets whether Hero will fight. In the strong second part, the white master (John Stahl) debates with a captured, wounded and caged Yankee (Tom Bateman) how much a slave is worth. It seems the worth of a coloured man, once he is made free, is less than his worth as a slave.

The third part begins with a Messenger artfully delaying his message. The Messenger is a talking dog, amusingly played by Dex Lee. The liberated Hero comes home, his name, character and circumstances changed, but in ways which are so out of character that they do not convince.

​How to continue reading…

This article appears in the Catholic Herald magazine - to read it in full subscribe to our digital edition from just 30p a week

The Catholic Herald is your essential weekly guide to the Catholic world; latest news, incisive opinion, expert analysis and spiritual reflection