Tag Archives: Peter Harrison

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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Review of Dear Brutus – 5 Stars


Dear Brutus

Southwark Playhouse

Reviewed – 4th December 2017


“some sparkling verbal sparring, and delightfully funny moments from the very beginning”


“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.”
Julius Caesar, William Shakespeare

These words, spoken by Cassius in ‘Julius Caesar’ are at the heart of J M Barrie’s ‘Dear Brutus’. A group of people have been invited to stay with a mysterious old man in a country house. They do not know each other but they have something in common. The butler warns them not to enter the enchanted wood, should it appear, but most of the group ignore him and venture into the trees. Will the experiences they have there change them?

In the first act we meet the characters, Lob is the eccentric host and Lob, in Shakespeare and folklore, is also known as Puck or Robin Goodfellow, a mischievous trickster. He has made it clear that the guests must be present for Midsummer’s Eve and they don’t know why. We discover that relationships between some of them are not what they seem at first. Not everyone is behaving well. There is some sparkling verbal sparring, and some delightfully funny moments from the very beginning as we find out more about these disparate house guests. There is the haughty Lady Caroline Lacy, the ladies man John Purdie, his long suffering wife Mabel, the flirtatious Joanna Brimble, the elderly Mr and Mrs Coade and the unhappy Will and Alice Dearth.

In Act two we are transported to the enchanted wood. Anna Reid’s design, Peter Harrison’s lighting and Max Perryment’s sound create the scene with a simplicity that is charming and effective. All the people who enter the wood are changed for a while, the world is turned upside down. Their relationships and fortunes are very different from their normal lives, but will they learn anything from the experience? Barrie also uses the device of transporting people from their real lives to a fantasy realm in Peter Pan and the Admirable Crichton. Whether the setting is Neverland, the site of a shipwreck or an enchanted wood, the opportunity to challenge his characters to live different lives for a while is one he seems to have relished. Perhaps some of the characters are given the chance to live their dreams, however briefly, but what will happen when they get back to their normal lives? In Act three we find out.

The cast are superb and so is Jonathan O’Boyle’s direction. It is such a beautifully performed tight ensemble piece that picking out one or two exceptional performances is difficult. However Venice van Someren’s Margaret almost moved me to tears, having also made me laugh with her Alice in Wonderland innocence and archness. Her scene with Miles Richardson’s Will Dearth, a very different man in the woods, was in some ways the very heart of the play. Emma Davies, Josie Kidd, Bathsheba Piepe, Charlotte Brimble, Helen Bradbury, Simon Rhodes, Robin Hooper, Edward Sayer and James Richardson are the other cast members, and they all deserve huge credit for their parts this jewel of a play.

The quote from Julius Caesar tells us that it is not fate that has made us who we are, or created our experiences, it is ourselves who have done so. But it is Shakespeare’s ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’ that has influenced this piece with it’s enchantments and mix ups. What do we see when we enter the wood? A better version of ourselves? A happier one? Things that might have been, possibilities and second chances? Maybe, if we pay attention, the enchantment can give us the power to change. I hope that you will go and see this beautiful, bittersweet, moving yet very funny play, there is more to JM Barrie than the boy who wouldn’t grow up.


Reviewed by Katre

Photography by Mitzi de Margary




Dear Brutus

is at the Southwark Playhouse until 30th December



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