Tag Archives: Anna Reid

The Sweet Science of Bruising
★★★★

Wilton’s Music Hall

The Sweet Science of Bruising

The Sweet Science of Bruising

Wilton’s Music Hall

Reviewed – 7th June 2019

★★★★

 

“Now in a venue every bit as grand as the writing deserves, The Sweet Science of Bruising is a gripping spectacle”

 

If you were given a minute to name as many stories about boxing as you could, you’d probably get into double figures. After all, there were six Rocky films alone. However, if this was narrowed down to women’s boxing, you might get Million Dollar Baby and then hit a wall.

In ‘The Sweet Science of Bruising’, Joy Wilkinson has written a worthy addition to this untapped canon. The play follows four women from different stratum of Victorian society who take up fisticuffs for a plethora of reasons: to champion women’s equality, to overcome domestic abuse or just because they’re good at lamping people. The first act romps along with the sort of feelgood factor – all upper cuts and corsets – that wouldn’t be out of place in the sort of Britcom film starring Gemma Arterton. However, things take a turn for the darker after the interval and there are several devastating moments that take the wind out of you.

The production premiered at Southwark Playhouse last October and since then, you can tell it’s been honed further, with the overall pacing now as lean as a boxer weighing in pre-fight. Some of the dialogue is ladled on a bit thick, but only to minor detriment. The main change is, of course, the venue and it’s difficult to imagine anywhere more fitting to stage it than Wilton’s Music Hall. Built in real life only ten years before the play was set, the venue certainly adds a seedy realness to the underground fighting in the script. Director Kirtsy Patrick Ward utilises the space brilliantly. One climatic fight scene has the majority of the ten-strong cast rushing in and out of the wings and onto the balconies in such an explosive manner that it has your eyes darting about like a dog watching a volleyball match. Even the subtle touches are there too – a layer of dry ice hangs in the air like the sort of deep Victorian smog in which Jack the Ripper lurked.

Credit must go to Kate Waters, the fight director – not a title you see on a programme all too often. What could have easily looked like drama school graduates pulling on boxing gloves for the first time actually looked fairly convincing. In fact, Fiona Skinner – who was difficult to prise your eyes off as the hyperactive northern lass Polly Stokes – looked like she could be quite handy in the ring if the whole thesp thing doesn’t work out. What’s more, while it seems churlish to pick out a male actor’s performance for particular praise in a play all about female empowerment, Owen Brenman is especially amusing as the verbose Svengali figure who organises the bouts.

Now in a venue every bit as grand as the writing deserves, The Sweet Science of Bruising is a gripping spectacle that never drops in quality and doesn’t shirk in getting stuck into the burning injustices of the time.

 

Reviewed by Joe Holyoake

Photography by Mitzi de Margary

 


The Sweet Science of Bruising

Wilton’s Music Hall until 29th June

 

Last ten shows reviewed at this venue:
A Midsummer Night’s Dream | ★★★½ | June 2018
Sancho – An act of Remembrance | ★★★★★ | June 2018
Twelfth Night | ★★★ | September 2018
Dietrich – Natural Duty | ★★★★ | November 2018
The Box of Delights | ★★★★ | December 2018
Dad’s Army Radio Hour | ★★★★ | January 2019
The Good, The Bad And The Fifty | ★★★★ | February 2019
The Pirates Of Penzance | ★★★★ | February 2019
The Shape Of the Pain | ★★★★★ | March 2019
The Talented Mr Ripley | ★★★★ | May 2019

 

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Mary’s Babies

Mary’s Babies
★★★

Jermyn Street Theatre

Mary’s Babies

Mary’s Babies

Jermyn Street Theatre

Reviewed – 22nd March 2019

★★★

 

“a hugely ambitious play that doesn’t quite succeed in its intentions”

 

In the 1930s, Dr Mary Barton and her husband, Dr Bertold Wiesner, founded one of the first clinics to treat infertility with donor insemination. Because the practice was new, there were no regulations regarding donor selection. Barton said she had a small pool of select donors, but thanks to DNA testing, we now know the majority of the 1,500 women who were treated by Barton were inseminated with Wiesner’s sperm.

Written by Maud Dromgoole and directed by Tatty Hennessy, Mary’s Babies imagines various intersecting lives of a handful of people who discover they share Wiesner’s DNA. There’s considerable skill in Dromgoole’s windows into lives that are rich, genuine, and occasionally touching. However, despite the creative team’s best efforts to maintain clarity, with just two actors multi-roling so many different characters with such abrupt alternation, a lot is lost in the shuffle.

Katy Stephens and Emma Fielding take on a total of thirty-nine different characters, although the play primarily revolves around five. Stephens and Fielding are strong performers (they admirably handled a technical difficulty which stopped the show midway), and Stephens in particular impresses with her vivid transformations. An ingenious set design (Anna Reid) that displays the names of the characters on a wall, which light up according to who is in each scene, is indispensable.

But even with first-rate multi-roling and displayed character names, the play can be difficult to follow. Hennessy’s choice of minimalism for an informationally dense piece, and Dromgoole’s choppy, short scenes with vague dialogue, leave large gaps for meaning to fall through. Entire scenes often hinge on one word that is too easily lost. I missed the word ‘eulogy’ in the opening monologue, so didn’t get why Stephens was reading off a script, thinking it couldn’t be possible she didn’t have the lines memorised. I missed the word ‘polydactyl’ in another scene, and was perplexed by the fuss about Stephens’ hand.

Additionally, the characters’ ages don’t transmit well. A reveal toward the end that two characters are twins doesn’t click; I spent the performance believing one was about ten years younger than the other. All of them, who are dating and planning/having children, seem to be in their thirties. Kieran, arguably the main character, comes off as early twenties. They jar with the maths, which says their age range is forty to eighty (the play takes place in 2007 and the clinic closed in 1967). It’s evident Dromgoole wanted to write younger characters. The play may have been stronger if it were set in the present, about a fictional artificial insemination scandal in the 1980s.

This is a hugely ambitious play that doesn’t quite succeed in its intentions. Too much visual and verbal information fails to communicate. The script seems better suited to film, which would solve a lot of its problems.

 

Reviewed by Addison Waite

Photography by Robert Workman

 


Mary’s Babies

Jermyn Street Theatre until 13th April

 

Previously reviewed at this venue:
Mad as Hell | ★★★ | February 2018
The Dog Beneath the Skin | ★★★ | March 2018
Tonight at 8.30 | ★★★★★ | April 2018
Tomorrow at Noon | ★★★★ | May 2018
Stitchers | ★★★½ | June 2018
The Play About my Dad | ★★★★ | June 2018
Hymn to Love | ★★★ | July 2018
Burke & Hare | ★★★★ | November 2018
Original Death Rabbit | ★★★★★ | January 2019
Agnes Colander: An Attempt At Life | ★★★★ | February 2019

 

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