Review: Sucker Punch at The Lowry is “strong, sturdy and powerfully authentic”

With Creed III making more money than the previous instalments of this Rocky spin off, the appetite for stories set in the boxing ring shows no signs of being knocked out.

And you can see why. We all enjoy stories featuring under dogs and often the drama outside of the ring follows the boxer, as they ‘sell’ the fight to the cameras, using hyperbole – even though in reality they may be feeling scared or anxious.

The glamour of boxing is also a selling point, the fast cars, the money paid per fight and the Las Vegas style setting of many of these big televised matches attracts viewers, as the drama ensues and hopefully packs a punch.

Roy Williams’ Sucker Punch first opened in 2010 at the Royal Court and this intimate venue means you were placed front and centre.

The Quays Theatre at the Lowry is one of the stops on this tour and it is a perfect venue for Williams’ exploration of racism, toxic masculinity and friendship set during Maggie Thatcher’s reign in the 1980s.

Outside of Sandra Falase’s highly detailed boxing gym is something more dangerous, as simmering tensions between the police and young people are reaching an all time high.

The ‘stop and search’ policies mean that black men are targeted by the police and there is simply no respect and they rightfully feel hunted down like foxes.

 These scenes work really well, as characters run into the gym for safety and security and the boxing ring becomes their haven.

We hear references to songs and films of the time within the dialogue, including Shalamar’s “I Can Make You Feel Good”, Conan the BarbarianAirplane and UB40’s “One in Ten.”

But the props and costumes would benefit from a bit more 1980’s detail. Not the usual cliches such as the Rubik’s Cube but the voice of Thatcher blaring out of the radio, alongside the music would speak volumes and some Lonsdale vests and Dunlop Green Flash trainers would place people in this much-written-about decade.

The casual racism conveyed by Charlie (played by Liam Smith) to best friends Leon (Shem Hamilton) and Troy (Christian Alifoe) is frequent and in your face but also incredibly authentic.

It might make some audience members feel uncomfortable but it has to be hard to watch, in order to have an impact. You only have to spend an hour on twitter to realise that this way of communicating and stereotyping still exists and I have seen and heard worse on social networks than Williams conveys here.

Last year Daniel J Carver’s beautifully realised play – the stunning drama/thriller Revealed was set inside a Caribbean restaurant. As tensions rose outside on the streets, the family drama inside boiled over and the effect was incredibly claustrophobic, thrilling and disturbing.

I longed for more of that in Sucker Punch, I wanted to feel as if I was inside a pressure cooker. When the outside comes into the ring, this play is strong and sturdy and the emotional impact stings like a bee. The first half is stronger than the second half, as there the plot is stretched slightly too much in when you return following the interval.

Where the play excels is the idea that people ‘follow a leader’ and spout what they say as factual. Charlie is holding out for a hero in the boxing ring and cannot find one who will stay, so he turns to Maggie Thatcher and begins to worship her no nonsense attitude. But he fails to grasp the effect of her language and policies on the local community who are suffering, as a result. He ‘others’ them even though Leon and Troy work there because he is blinded by his loyalty to Thatcherism and he can forget what is really holding him back; the booze.

The boxing scenes are effective and involving but the fight outside of the matches is what draws you in. And that is down to Roy Williams sheer attention to detail within the dialogue and action on the streets, which is discussed and then ignored by those who could intervene or support.

Shem Hamilton plays Leon with an inner drive to succeed but also a deep seated fear.

Christian Alifoe captures Troy’s swagger but also his burning anger and he simmers like a forgotten saucepan of hot water, until he boils over. Wayne Rollins provides much needed humour as Leon’s betting man dad, who is always backing the wrong horse. And Liam Smith and Poppy Winter (Becky) have great chemistry as father and daughter and their own loyalty is tested when Becky dates Leon.

Sucker Punch appeals to more than fans of boxing because it highlights the fact that the world remains unequal and that when this is dismissed as woke, it silences the disenfranchised and galvanises those with the power. Who knew that 23 years after this play was first staged, we would still be waiting for a bell to ring?

I Love Manchester are offering an exclusive £10 off tickets by using the show promo code ILMSUCKER

Sucker Punch is at the Lowry until 6th May and tickets can be booked here.


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