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REVIEW: Sucker Punch at Sunderland Fire Station

Sucker Punch

Sunderland Fire Station

Until Friday 23 June 2023

A boxing drama set in the 80s arrives in the very pleasant surroundings of the Fire Station this week for three evenings.

As the official publicity explains:

"Set against the backdrop of Thatcherite politics, police brutality, and the Brixton riots, Sucker Punch is a gripping and thought-provoking coming-of-age story that transports you to the gritty landscape of the 80s boxing scene. The play follows the journey of two best friends, Leon and Troy, as they navigate their way through the challenges of youth, self-discovery, and the pursuit of approval from their inspirational yet foul-mouthed trainer, Charlie Maggs. 

Written by renowned British dramatist Roy Williams, Sucker Punch has garnered critical acclaim, receiving the Alfred Fagon Award and The Writers Guild Award for Best Play. It was also nominated for an Olivier Award for Best New Play. The play initially captivated audiences in a sell-out production at London's prestigious Royal Court, featuring the talented Daniel Kaluuya."

As you arrive in the venue it is apparent that the set in based around a boxing ring. Above the gym is a lighting rig that spells the name of the play. So far so good.

(Regular readers will now be worried - we're discussing the lighting already! Trust me, this isn't going to be easy to write.)

Tommy (John Rogers) is practising his moves with trainer and gym owner Charlie (Liam Smith). In walks two lads who have been tasked with mopping the floor and cleaning the toilets. Troy (Christain Alifoe) and Leon (Shem Hamilton) clearly has ambitions to be successful in the ring and to date Charlie's daughter Becky (Poppy Winter). 

This is the 1980s and the dialogue is of its times. We are hit with racism and sexism from the off. It is not for comfortable hearing. Alifoe, Hamilton and Winter try to make the most of the script but in being unpleasant to people it is difficult to feel an emotional attachment or empathy with the various characters. When the father refers to his daughter in derogatory terms as a result of her choice of date it does not help matters. Nor does it help when one of the young lad's father appears and points out how unpopular the lad is with "his own".

It may be "gritty". It may explore the truth for a group of people. But if the situation is not one that one has experienced, there has to be another emotional way into the story. If there is a lack of caring about the characters then the story does not hit well.

I may be out on a limb here. The actors were working hard, really hard. But they are bound by a source material that simply didn't do it for me. A few things happen in the relationships of those on stage - who then walk off and their departure is then explained by exposition delivered later as it isn't always clear at the time. Some characters, in particular Becky are under developed in the story when they could have been used to bring about balance. Perhaps. Or perhaps I haven't actually got a clue what I'm talking about.

I'd like to point out that there were a number of people on their feet at the end - they clearly got it when I didn't.

It would be a boring world if we all enjoyed the same things.

Review: Stephen Oliver

Photos: Mark Savage


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