“They balance sincerity and comedy throughout, allowing the audience a laugh even when the situation is heartbreakingly hopeless”
With a title like that and a poster of a lone bear standing tall and magnificent (in a space suit), it would be easy to assume the general plot outline – quirky man goes for gold, sacrifices everything, comes out victorious. The American dream is real, people! You just have to sacrifice everything! And apparently buy a space suit. And be a bear…
‘Neck or Nothing’ follows the story of Jens (James Murfitt), a man with a dream to make the ultimate contribution to humankind; to be the hero the world needs. And he plans on doing this whilst living in his brother Frank’s garage, being funded by his wife Martha (Katy Daghorn) who pulls double shifts at a failing bakery.
Co-writers and directors Christopher Neels and Callum Cameron have created a character with all the trappings of a victorious underdog: obsessive single-mindedness, a plan that seems completely ridiculous, a loving family whose faith begins to waver, and a small town that laughs at his brilliance. But rather than taking it to its Rocky Balboa conclusion, instead they highlight the sad reality of this trope, and of the inevitable damage caused by self-inflicted isolation, and toxic masculinity in general.
Murfitt, Daghorn and North all deliver enthusiastic and engaging performances. They balance sincerity and comedy throughout, allowing the audience a laugh even when the situation is heartbreakingly hopeless. Their characters are all surprisingly fleshed out – another twist on the classic underdog story, where all other characters beside the lead are usually kept in soft-focus.
Costume and set design (Sophia Pardon) are efficient but good fun – the star of the show is of course Jens’ ‘invention’- a home-made ‘ironman’ costume, cupcake tray serving well as a steel six-pack and cycling knee pads making excellent superhero-square shoulders. The video and lighting design (Rachel Sampley) does well to create various spaces on a small stage without overcomplicating and distracting from the main event.
In all, Neels and Cameron have succeeded in creating an off-beat comedy with just enough heart to get their message across, but not so much that you want to look away for sheer embarrassment. I look forward to seeing what Fledgling Theatre Co do next.
“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.