Sucker Punch

This event has now finished. Until Jul 31 2010

© Chris Nash

Time Out says  

Posted: Wed Jun 23 2010

Schoolboys Leon and Troy both hang around Charlie's tatty London gym, where they clean the bogs, mop the floor and learn to box. What's a jab or an upper cut compared to the blows of routine racism - a constant both in the banter of the establishment's testosterone - thick atmosphere, and outside on the streets of Thatcher's Britain, where the sus laws bring them into frequent contact with heavy-handed police? But if Leon, determined to do better in life than his gambling-addict dad, is prepared to bite his tongue, Troy would rather talk with his fists, in and out of the ring. Troy's mum sends him to live with his father and start afresh in America; Leon goes pro and begins to make his name. When the two former friends square up in a prize fight, it's obvious that there's more than a title at stake.

Like Muhammad Ali, Roy Williams's new play floats like a butterfly and stings like a bee. Witty, angry, electrifying and poignant, it's directed with fleet-footed flair by Sacha Wares on a set by Miriam Buether that gives it a grippingly visceral authenticity. The audience is seated on two levels, either side of a real boxing ring, where the play's gladiatorial combat of compromise, aspiration and integrity takes place. And the combination of Leon Baugh's intricate choreography with expert training by 1983 European boxing champion Errol Christie is ferociously beautiful.

In putting up with the repellant attitude of Nigel Lindsay's hard-pressed, on-his-uppers Cockney Charlie, and with the vile chants of racist spectators, is Leon (Daniel Kaluuya) hero or sell-out? Is the exploitation of Anthony Welsh's hothead Troy any less reprehensible, just because his blinged-up bully of a manager is black? A burgeoning romance between Leon and Charlie's daughter Becky is a formulaic and under-explored plot development, and the questions Williams poses are familiar. But their treatment here is vital and immediate - and prompts fresh interrogation of twenty-first-century attitudes, where racism, if often in a more insidious form, remains a social evil, and where gangsta culture supplies some questionable role models.

And Wares's production is a knockout, dialogue and internal monologue wrapped around the elegant violence of the sport, the fights and frenzied excitement gut-wrenchingly convincing yet triumphantly theatrical. A fast, thrilling dramatic bout that packs a political punch.

Royal Court Theatre details

Royal Court Theatre, Sloane Square, London SW1W 8AS

Royal Court Theatre

A hard-hitting theatre in well-heeled Sloane Square, the Royal Court has always placed emphasis on new British talent - from John Osborne's 'Look...

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