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Sucker Punch (Theatre Review)

sucker punchRoy Williams is back and he is in shape and on form. His new play, Sucker Punch, at the Royal Court Theatre, lives up to its name. The Royal Court has been transformed into a boxing arena by Miriam Buether, the set designer, who leaves no stone unturned. The boxing ring is the right size and the mirrors that you get in a boxing gym are fully present.

Williams has established his use of metaphors to tell stories about society by using a sport like he did with Sing Yer Hearts Out For The Lads and Joe Guy. Though the latter focused more on the tensions between African and Afro-Caribbean communities in the UK, the story was told through the life of a footballer.

In Sucker Punch, Williams takes us back to what life was like in the 80s for young black British men. A time when Margaret Thatcher was in power and though he makes no obvious political statements, his characters tell us what we need to know.  Hence, when you compare the past to the current social, political, economic, cultural and educational standing of life in the UK for the same group of people, Williams presents to us in this play, you do have to ask, how much has changed over the years? Have we won any battles and did we actually fight the right ones?

Leon and Troy are two young black British men and close friends but soon, they become the objects of their boxing trainers and the perfect set of pawns used by both men to get what they want out of life. Leon is the law abiding one, whose father shows up when he needs a favour. While Troy decides to take on the system and its racist attitude towards young black men like him.  This soon comes to a head one night when there is a riot and Leon leaves him to dance to the music on his own.  Troy finds his way to the US, when his mother has had enough of him. While out there, he meets his new trainer, ray, who turns him into a winner. Leon achieves success in the UK and Europe, with the financial gain that comes with it but that is not enough for Charlie, who has turned the young man into his meal ticket. Troy on the other hand, has a score to settle but at whose expense? It is long forgotten that as young men, they both vied for the attention of Charlie Maggs, the South London trainer everyone wanted in their corner.

Williams writes a fast paced and witty dialogue, laced with action as we see both men get in the ring, skipping and doing what real boxers do in order to get to the top of their game. His characters are sometimes animated and at other time foul-mouthed like Charlie who would not call himself a racist but thinks its okay to make comments along the lines of, “That was Troy, I know they all look the same in the dark son.” And of course, he will not allow his daughter, Becky date Leon, who happens to be the same black boy who trains for the ring. Leon can bring in the money but he cannot have his daughter.  You see, the line must be drawn somewhere. While this is not a political play, Williams also brings in aspects of the London riots of the 80s, which he does brilliantly because it does not overshadow his characters but defines the relationship between his two main characters.

If Williams aim was to ask the question as to how life has evolved over the years, then the issue of opportunities available to young black men here in the UK is ever so present and very well reflected in todays’ society, especially with the fact that young black British actors still feel the need to cross the Atlantic in order to make a name for themselves in America before they are accepted in their own ‘YARD.’

Daniel Kaluuya and Anthony Welsh both give an energetic performance as Leon and Troy respectively, and Sacha Wares once again, delivers a play fueled by intelligent dialogue and action.

Sucker Punch is currently showing at the Royal Court until 31 July.

Image: Tristram Kenton


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