Tuesday, 27 July 2010


26/07/10, Royal Court

The Royal Court was transformed into a boxing arena with the ring in the centre of the stalls and seats constructed onstage to mirror those in the circle and rear stalls.

Two young black kids pitch up at a white-run gym in South London c 1980, at the time of the Brixton riots. One shows promise and is coached to a UK and European championship, abandoning his friend in a fight with police along the way for fear of destroying his career. The other skulks off to America where he too becomes a boxer. They meet; the American, mentally tougher and meaner, wins resoundingly.

In a sub-plot the Londoner falls for the white gym owner's daughter, to her father's fury, and then chooses the father and fame rather than the girl.

Nothing especially remarkable about the plotting or the characters, several of whom are from stock, especially the black American trainer (sharp suit, sharp beard, sharp talk), and the white gym owner (hopeless with money, lives for boxing, always seeing his greatest hopes poached by cleverer promoters, at heart racist).

But effectively done with few false notes: a play as much about racism as boxing, but also about the 80s (a disastrous decade of rioting and recession and social conflict and terrible fashions), about Britain and the US and about the price people pay for success.

Roy Williams wrote it. Good performances by Daniel Kaluuya as the promising boxer, Nigel Lindsay as the trainer and Anthony Welsh as the other kid.

The fights were mimed, the knockout blows done with a lighting flash in slow motion. There were occasional soliloquys when the lights dimmed and our hero alone was illuminated in the ring, speaking to us.

As often with plays by black authors and/or with a largely black cast there was a strong black contingent in the audience, much noisier, more vocal, more engaged, laughing raucously at the jokes, than the usual theatre clientele of uptight middle class whites.