“Bower’s script, and indeed the show as a whole, are already in a pretty strong and exciting place”
Swimming is a common trope in the telling of gay stories. Think the Hampstead Men’s Pond in Alan Hollinghurst’s “The Line of Beauty”, David Hockney’s “Peter Getting Out of Nick’s Pool (1966)” and the pool-side antics in coming-of-age films from “Call Me By Your Name” to “Y Tu Mamá También”. Alex Bower’s memorable new play draws on this rich cultural heritage to create a gripping and probing hour of drama.
Dan (Andrew Hawley) has just said so long to girlfriend of three years Marianne (Harriet Green) and the two are fairly irreconcilable. She moves in with Dan’s best friend and trusty furniture-builder Ant (Jack Helsby) whilst Dan rekindles a long-forgotten desire for the male sex and starts dating Sam (Patrick Cavendish). Struggling with years of keeping in the closet, Dan begins to construct a new identity for himself – one free of the friends and girlfriends that have pigeon-holed him his whole life.
This run is described as an opportunity to “get the show on its feet” with intentions to develop it further, but Bower’s script, and indeed the show as a whole, are already in a pretty strong and exciting place. Bower has created four rich and detailed characters, and he asks some intriguing questions about how we approach the spectrum of sexuality. When Ant stumbles across Sam and Dan at the lido, Bower captures well the awkwardness of two sides of a personality colliding. Dan’s been straight his whole life, how can he suddenly decide he’s gay?
With just four stools and some neat shifts in lighting, Rebecca Loudon’s direction is reminiscent of Jamie Lloyd’s current work at the Harold Pinter Theatre. Minimal and sparse, the relationships between characters are crucial. Luckily Loudon has a excellent ensemble working together effortlessly.
Moving forward, work could be done to make these characters more like people with histories than mere “types”. Ant in particular feels well rounded and detailed, but Green and Cavendish are given a little less meat to chew on. I’m left contemplating the meaning of that title too. That aside, this is a promising new piece of work that ought to be seen even at this early stage of development.
“A socially relevant and uplifting story well worth telling”
Inspired by the British female boxers who faced immense discrimination in their plight to box alongside their male counterparts in the ring, Fighter by Libby Liburd (writer of Muvvahood and Temporary) is the tale of a mother’s determination to fight even when the pressures of life, both inside the ring and out, threaten her dreams of sparring glory.
Set primarily in the late 90’s; indicated by musical interludes which sent us, wistfully, back to a time pre-Instagram; we follow Lee’s journey (played by Liburd) as she enters Tommy’s boxing gym.
The play opens displaying the dynamic set design of a boxing ring, with an array of young boxers training. These young boxers are actually members of ‘Fight for Peace’, an organisation which incorporates boxing and education to support the personal development of young people. This blurred line of real life with fiction is something that Liburd incorporates often within her work and by no accident. The result is a sense of ‘edutainment’; using entertainment as a powerful conduit to bring light to a social cause. Something, Liburd manages to do quite aptly.
Liburd portrays Lee as a bubbly mother determined to have her time in the ring. This portrayal was funny and very entertaining yet there was a danger, at times, of it becoming one dimensional; with the gags over shadowing any depth of character development. However there was a welcome shift in emotional gear during a soliloquy where Lee explains her trauma at being torn between her boxing and her family, which brought a sense of gravitas, previously missing, to the role.
Lee is guided on her journey by the un-apologetically and brutally honest ‘Alison’ played by the award winning actress Cathy Tyson. Alison provides a contrast to Lee’s struggling character by delivery a sobering perspective of the reality of parenthood and sacrifice.
A notable performance came from ‘Tommy’ the owner of the boxing club payed by David Schaal. Schaal’s depiction of a weary retired boxer with a big heart was fully of pathos and humour and added a lovely complexity to the production as a whole.
Though perforated with expletives (not for the youngest of ears) the somewhat rough language of the play emphasised what was at the heart of it: the celebration of women, their trials, tribulations and constant movement to be recognised as formidable fighters along with their fellow contemporaries; male or otherwise.
A socially relevant and uplifting story well worth telling.