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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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Macbeth
★★★

Watermill Theatre

Macbeth

Macbeth

Watermill Theatre

Reviewed – 4th March 2019

★★★

 

“Postlethwaite commands as Macbeth. He is every inch the rugged soldier and he compellingly takes us through the light and shade of Macbeth’s personality”

 

The Watermill Theatre in Bagnor near Newbury is without doubt one of the most beautifully located theatres that there is. The auditorium seats just 200 people and the fixtures of a once working mill make it utterly charming and unique. It prides itself on its in-house productions providing an eclectic mix of classic and contemporary pieces.

Macbeth has been a very present work in the last year, with both the Royal Shakespeare Company and the National Theatre giving us updated productions. Traditionally, Macbeth, a brave Scottish General, is visited by a trio of witches who prophesise that he will become King of Scotland. His ambition, and that of his wife, spurs him to murder King Duncan and take the throne. A continuity of control and ruthless violence create their eventual demise as they are consumed by guilt and paranoia.

Artistic Director, Paul Hart has tried to bring some original elements to this production. Sometimes it works and sometimes it falls short. The set (Katie Lias) is simple and relies heavily on lighting to create the necessary tone of the piece. Lighting Designer Tom White succeeds to an extent. Duncan’s murder is one of the most compelling moments in the production and this is largely down to the staging and lighting which create a sinister and shocking scene. It also worked very well at the close as we saw the blood falling down the wall as it fell from Malcom’s crown. However, throughout the rest of the production it was less effective and uninteresting.

Billy Postlethwaite commands as Macbeth. He is every inch the rugged soldier and he compellingly takes us through the light and shade of Macbeth’s personality during the monologues and soliloquies. Lillie Flynn as Banquo is excellent although I was confused as to the relevance of the gender swapping of the character as it did not bring anything to the production. Emma McDonald as Lady Macbeth is rightly, unlikable and I felt no sympathy for the character. Her diction seemed over enunciated and the presentation felt forced. Eva Feiler as the Porter confused me and the performance was never quite humorous or creepy enough. The idea of this character as a bell hop could have been a genius one but it never reached its potential. The exclusion of the Wyrd Sisters was also a baffling choice.

The Watermill has been using the musical element of their productions as an integral part of their plays for some time. I have seen it work in previous productions to great effect but with Macbeth it seemed formulaic though the choreography by Movement Director, Tom Jackson Greaves was pleasant and effective. Shakespeare works best when kept fresh and relevant and sadly this production did not quite manage it.

 

Reviewed by Emma Gradwell

Photography by Pamela Raith

 


Macbeth

Watermill Theatre until 30th March

 

Last ten shows reviewed at this venue:
Teddy | ★★★★★ | January 2018
The Rivals | ★★★★★ | March 2018
Burke & Hare | ★★★★ | April 2018
A Midsummer Night’s Dream | ★★★★ | May 2018
Jerusalem | ★★★★★ | June 2018
Trial by Laughter | ★★★★ | September 2018
Jane Eyre | ★★★★ | October 2018
Robin Hood | ★★★★ | December 2018
Murder For Two | ★★★★ | February 2019

 

Click here to see more of our latest reviews on thespyinthestalls.com