Shem Hamilton (left) as Leon and Christian Alifoe as Troy Pictures:-Manuel-Harlan

Sucker Punch

Wolverhampton Grand theatre


This is a revival of a play by British playwright Roy Williams, first staged in 2010 at the Royal Court in London when it was nominated for the Evening Standard Award and the Olivier Award for Best New Play.

Williams himself was born in Fulham and brought up in Notting Hill, the youngest of four siblings in a single-parent home, with his mother working as a nurse after his father moved to the US.

Williams decided to work in theatre after being tutored by the writer Don Kinch when he was failing in school and attended some rehearsals in a black theatrical company Kinch ran. In 1992, he took a theatre-writing degree at Rose Bruford College and has worked ever since as a writer.

I attended the evening with current Commonwealth boxing light flyweight champion Matt Windle as my guest to give me an inside view.

The story is told within a single boxing set in deprived London in the 1980s, with a gym, and ring centre stage (designer Sandra Falase). Two young black boys, Leon and Troy, are trained by a white trainer, Charlie, who sees their potential. Events unfold against the backdrop of social unrest and racism. The thirteen years since the play was

The cast of seven features a solitary female, Becky (Poppy Winter), Leon’s would be girlfriend. Winter, in her professional debut, makes the very best of her well written role dealing with boys, interracial relationships and an alcoholic, financially hopeless father with considerable skill.first staged exactly covers the period of a Conservative Government. The social issues covered are no less relevant now.

Matt Windle commented , “Gary, boxing is theatre”. He is right. Tragedy, romance, comedy success, failure, treachery and revenge are all present in this play which revolves around love. The boxer’s love for their sport, a father’s love for his daughter.

Star of the show is Shem Hamilton as aspiring boxer Leon opposite bad boy friend Troy (Christian Alifoe). Hamilton convinces as a boxer and love interest for Becky and wrestles with the nuances of his relationship with gym owner and trainer Charlie (Liam Smith) admirably.

Charlie forces him to choose between a relationship with his daughter and a boxing career cleverly framed as white people paying to see black men beat each other up, amongst numerous awkward racial challenges.

Laughter, levity and life are provided by aging Lothario, Squid (Wayne Rollins) who plays Leon’s father , a man whose moves are for the bedroom, not the boxing ring.

The script is awash with racial and sexual slurs, purely there to reflect the time rather than to shock. The unusually diverse audience, of which I would estimate 50 per cent were from the ethnic communities and 80 per cent of that 50 per cent were Afro Caribbean with men and women equally represented, did not take offence, instead roaring laugher.

Closed caption screens were used for the hard of hearing but proved invaluable to follow some of the slang used. The fight sequences were imaginatively handled, often in flash back and slow motion, Asha Jennings-Grant and Enric Ortuño’s work on the movement and fight direction were very effective.

The performed running time is around two hours exclusive of interval in a show which kept everyone engaged winning deserved rapturous applause at the final curtain. Director Nathan Powell has done a fine job projecting complex and big issues on a small stage asking what it is to be black in Britain today. Matt Windle confirmed its authenticity and accuracy for the cognoscenti, and felt that racism within boxing and the gyms was far less a problem today than in the 1980s, for the rest of us, it was simply a damned good show which runs until Fri 16th at the Grand and continues on tour.

Gary Longden


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