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Knocked out by a Sucker Punch?

Sucker-punch_1662946c This was a bit of a last minute ticket buy because some friends were going - boxing isn't my thang you see but I had seen rather a lot of stars on marketing material so I thought 'why not?'.

So off I toddle to fav haunt the Royal Court and they got the first punch in early as I took my seat. I knew the Jerwood had been reconfigured with the stage in the middle of the auditorium but nothing quite prepares you for the sight of a boxing ring in what was once familiar theatre space.

There was a bit of light sparring as the scene is set - a London boxing gym in the 80s. Two black, school-age teens Leon (Daniel Kaluuya) and Troy (Anthony Welsh) are learning to box and vying to be the favourite of gym-owner Charlie (Nigel Lindsay).

When Charlie loses Tommy (Jason Maza), his champion in the making and potential financial saviour of the gym, to a rival club Leon becomes his only hope.

But this is the 80s of Brixton and Tottenham riots and boxing fans not taking kindly to a black man beating a white man in the ring. To compound matters Leon has fallen out with best friend Troy and Charlie's daughter Becky (Sarah Ridgeway in the the sort of clothes I've tried desperately to forget existed in my wardrobe at one time) are secretly going out.

The play charts Leon's rise, turning pro and making it to European championship. It rains down punches as the fights are imaginatively staged a spotlight on Leon who cleverly narrates and re-enacts key moments including his often Micheal Jackson inspired celebration dances.

But with a rise there is an inevitable fall. Leon is living the high life and Charlie has invested all his money in the stock market which has just crashed. He arranges a make or break fight to dig them out of the financial mire. A fight against Troy who has since moved to America and carved his own boxing career there.

The final fight is, again, another on target punch. Skillfully done with time accelerating through the rounds. The boxers grow battered and tired and it is all, well, a little bit too close to the real thing for my comfort at least.

So I was down but not quite out. Sucker Punch is a spectacle you have to see. The production is truly jaw-dropping and the actors physically and verbally crackle with an energy that is almost exhausting to watch.

And I wanted to really, really like it. I want to be able to say yep, five stars. But there was something missing that makes me want to fight back with a final lunge. And this is what I think it is: with all the energy and excitement of the boxing, the characters and dialogue gets a little bit swallowed up and subsequently so do some of the issues it raises.

Sucker Punch didn't knock me out but it certainly had a pretty good go and is to be applauded for that.

It's had a great run which was extended by a week to finish this weekend (31 July). It's sold out, so you'll have to queue up for returns if you want to see it.

RS/BW 6DS

Easy peasy at the Royal Court and no I'm not going to say that Mr W has performed there no, Miriam Bueher was the designer for Sucker Punch and she also was designer on Cock which he starred in blah, blah. And no, I'm not bored of this yet.

 

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