Reviewed – 31st January 2019
“an exceptionally presented intimate but high-stakes story”
It’s hard to deny that immersive theatre is making powerful waves in the industry, delivering a type of audience experience that gives them agency and a personal investment within the narrative. Exit Production’s Fight Night reinforces the notion that interactivity is the future of theatre in an exceptionally presented intimate but high-stakes story.
The audience are placed as the supporters of either Joe Williams (Peter Grimwood) or Ian Bradshaw (Edward Linard), two boxers about to trade blows in a pivotal match. The story follows the pre-match confrontations, the locker room anxieties, scheming and strategising, and of course the match itself – all of which the audience are integral in. They were assigned different roles, such as cornermen, doctors, and judges, and the extent to which they follow and participate in the narratives unfolding around them will alter the outcome of the match. It’s unclear how much audience input actually affected events, but – crucially – it felt in the moment as though huge consequences depended on your actions.
That said, if you aren’t keen on participation, it’s simple enough to let other people volunteer for the more interactive roles and watch the story play out around you – but I’d struggle to recommend that. I was placed in Joe’s team, and was treated to an engrossing underdog story revolving around his aspirations to push his career forward in spite of his working class background and a previous defeat. Stakes are driven higher by his girlfriend Kate (Hannah Samuels), culminating in a huge and difficult choice having to be made by the group before the fight.
The whole cast deliver masterful performances that are excellently naturalistic for the setting, especially Grimwood and Samuels who carry the energy of some very tense scenes exceptionally well considering that the shyness of audience members can sometimes drag down the pace in this style of theatre. The naturalism was occasionally taken a little too far and a few lines were inaudible at times, but never to the extent that the narrative was lost.
Dev J. Danzig’s set design also carries a huge amount of detail that transforms the venue into a living breathing boxing ring. Posters adorn the walls and video projection shows interviews and a live feed during the fight, while the locker and medical rooms are brimming with items like photos and newspaper articles that flesh out the world and characters to immense effect.
The genius of Fight Night lies in that you don’t really need to know anything about boxing to love it. Directors Joe Ball and Chris Neels have seamlessly woven together a whole tapestry of narratives that will have you fully invested through the challenging and personal choices you’ll have to make – even if you’re not a fan of the sport, by the time the fight rolls around you’ll instinctively find yourself hurling cheers and screams into the ring.
Reviewed by Tom Francis
Photography by Mark Senior
Part of VAULT Festival 2019