by Roy Williams.

Royal Court (Jerwood Theatre Downstairs) Sloane Square SW1W 8AS To 31 July 2010.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat 3pm
Post-show Discussion 29 June.
Runs 1hr 35min No interval.

TICKETS: 020 7565 5000.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 26 June.

Increasingly involving drama asks who’s fighting whom.
For some time now the Royal Court’s Downstairs theatre’s tended to go protean – shape-shifting to a Tube carriage, for example, in Mike Bartlett’s My Child, and now reconfiguring round a boxing ring as Roy Williams’ characters slug it out over several bouts of racism through the 1980s. Ethnic-based street-fighting (Broadwater Farm a recent memory) is matched by taunts in the ring before sports got round to showing racism the red card.

At first Williams seems to tread familiar ground merely to show how easily the tacky side of a generation back gets forgotten. But the obvious opening strands become progressively interwoven with others. There’s the Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner attitude of White boxing club-owner Charlie, giving the orders, happy to promote young Black fighters – but not have one of them growing too friendly with his daughter.

Then there’s the slipping of Charlie’s authority – a Comedians-type battle between principled and commercial management styles. And the demand for solidarity over self-preservation when the going in the streets gets tough, a grudge that lies behind the final, climactic fight between Leon and Troy. Plus the conflict of love and career.

All these make their way into the play, contributing to its toughness. So does Sacha Wares’ production, where jumping in or out of the ring takes on a status dimension, as does characters’ disappearance at the sides, taking them out of the mirrored world of Miriam Buether’s starkly garish set, punchbags hanging around, all intensifying the sweat and adrenaline of these lives.

Wares catches the play’s brittle humour, punchy point-making and rapid action. The performances are excellent, from Nigel Lindsay’s Charlie, authority and certainty evaporating as the Thatcherite success-story he’s bought into eats up his money, Sarah Ridgeway as his daughter, providing several moments of more reflective feeling alongside her survivor’s-guide toughness, and the two fighters at the story’s centre; Anthony Welsh’s ambitious, rebellious Troy contrasted by Daniel Kaluuya’s Leon, centre of the action.

Kaluuya shows Leon trying to balance various demands but ultimately, as a brilliantly-staged, increasingly speeded-up 14 round contest eventually shows, compromise is no way to win a fight.

Tommy: Jason Maza.
Charlie: Nigel Lindsay.
Leon: Daniel Kaluuya.
Troy: Anthony Welsh.
Becky: Sarah Ridgeway.
Squid: Trevor Laird.
Ray: Gary Beadle.
Cornerman/Bailiff: Christopher Jenner-Cole, Ross Ericson.

Director: Sacha Wares.
Designer: Miriam Buether.
Lighting: Peter Mumford.
Sound: Gareth Fry.
Dialect coach: Majella Hurley.
Choreographer: Leon Baugh.
Boxing Trainer: Errol Christie.

2010-06-27 11:57:15

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