The Theatreguide.London Review
first encountered Roy Williams' new play as a 1930s movie with John
Garfield, and then again as a 1940s movie starring Kirk Douglas, and of
course the 1980 version with Robert De Niro. Williams has tweaked the
formula a bit, but not as much as he thinks.
gym owner spots
some boxing talent in one of the lads working for him and offers to
train him, while ejecting his trouble-making buddy. The boy has to
choose between his ambition and his loyalty to his friend, a decision
he'll later have to make about his girlfriend and ultimately his
trainer. Meanwhile the other kid goes away and also becomes a boxer,
and inevitably the two meet in the ring, only to have the winner
discover that the corrupt world of boxing makes him no more in control
of his life than the loser.
same plot as Champion or Raging Bull, I grant, but the basic arc of a
boxer's rise, loss of his soul, and fall is the same, and making the
two boxers black doesn't really add very much.
the play in
the 1980s allows for passing references to the Brixton riots, and gives
an edge to the central character’s choice between his homeboy and the
white trainer and white girlfriend. But that is almost immediately
neutralised by making the other boxer's manager black, and besides,
even this angle has already been explored in Howard Sackler's Great
White Hope and the Sammy Davis version of Golden Boy.
ultimately very little new in what Williams tells us about the dangers
of ambition, the corruption of success or even the explanation of why
white audiences like watching two black men beat each other up.
there is, is
an excellent production by director Sacha Wares and some very strong
central performances. The Royal Court has been reshaped into an
in-the-round arena, with a boxing ring in the centre that doubles as
the gym and the site of various matches, which are all presented either
through Daniel Kaluuya describing his string of victories as he dances
about the empty ring, or through very evocative choreography by Leon
Baugh for the climactic bout between the former friends.
forces Kaluuya to move a bit abruptly from attractive striver to
egotistical hothead, the strength of his characterisation in the early
scenes carries him over the leap and keeps some of our sympathy on his
Nigel Lindsay captures all the complexities of the trainer whose sincere support for his boxer is coloured by the knowledge that the boy is his last ticket to the big time. Anthony Welsh as the buddy-turned-opponent and Sarah Ridgeway as the girlfriend go far toward making what are essentially just plot devices into real characters.
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- Sucker Punch - Royal Court 2010