Tag Archives: Kirsty Patrick Ward

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

 

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

 

The Sweet Science of Bruising – 4 Stars

Bruising

The Sweet Science of Bruising

Southwark Playhouse

Reviewed – 5th October 2018

★★★★

“it doesn’t quite land a knockout punch, however, this is important and compulsive viewing”

 

In Joy Wilkinson’s richly entertaining new play, four women, from diverse segments of Victorian society, find solace from the tedium and oppression of their day-to-day lives in the novel world of all-female boxing. Slugging it out in the backrooms of Islington to be crowned ‘Lady Boxing Champion of the World’, they provoke an aghast (and sometimes violent) response from patriarchal, ‘polite’ society.

Cannily, Wilkinson allows the status of these spectacles to remain ambiguous. Are they a kind of proto-feminist display of solidarity and valour? An exploitative circus, choreographed, literally, by the Svengali-like Professor Sharp (an excellent Bruce Alexander)? Or, as one of the fighter’s relatives strikingly suggests towards the end, an act of mere egotism on the part of the participants? The strength of the play is in its timely suggestion that, in rigidly oppressive societies, simple solutions are hard to come by and ‘progress’ can be tricky to measure.

Wilkinson has worked extensively for television which comes across in the play’s engaging, televisual-style sharp, snappy scenes and intertwining storylines. In fact, the evening feels a little akin to a Netflix box-set (one might see certain similarities with the streaming series Glow). A steady directorial hand is provided by Kirsty Patrick Ward who stages the text with the pace and clarity it demands. Anna Reid’s set-design, somewhat resembling a boxing-ring, uses the intimacy of the Southwark’s studio space to its full effect. From a lineup of strong performances, Fiona Skinner’s brittle, defiant Polly Stokes stands out.

At times, the narrative is pursued a little too urgently. The thoughtful questions posed in the first act get somewhat submerged by the haywire over-plotting of the second: promising narrative threads are rushed through or got slightly lost. Further, whereas the play neatly navigates its individual storylines, one was eager to see more of the women together, comparing their experiences. A bit more time with the boxing matches themselves would also have been appreciated (especially if it meant further opportunity to showcase Alison de Burgh’s brilliant fight direction).

It doesn’t quite land a knockout punch, however, this is important and compulsive viewing.

 

Reviewed by Joe Spence

Photography by Mitzide Margary

 


The Sweet Science of Bruising

Southwark Playhouse until 27th October

 

Previously reviewed at this venue:
Bananaman | ★★★ | January 2018
Pippin | ★★★★ | February 2018
Old Fools | ★★★★★ | March 2018
The Country Wife | ★★★ | April 2018
Confidence | ★★ | May 2018
The Rink | ★★★★ | May 2018
Why is the Sky Blue? | ★★★★★ | May 2018
Wasted | ★★★ | September 2018

 

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