This tender, bruising and funny play by leading British dramatist Roy Williams, brilliantly explores being young and black in the 80s. Winning the Alfred Fagon Award, The Writers Guild Award for Best Play and nominated for an Olivier for Best New Play, it first opened in a sell-out production at London's Royal Court.
Two best mates, Leon and Troy, have spent their youth growing up in a boxing gym, figuring out a place in the world, vying for the approval of Charlie, their trainer.
Soon Leon and Becky, Charlie's daughter, are trying to keep a big secret. In a ruthless world.
But there can only be one winner, and it's time everyone stepped into the ring to face up to who they really are...
A Theatre Nation Partnerships production, produced by Queen's Theatre Hornchurch, this regional premiere of thrillingly staged event theatre, from an exciting partnership of theatres, is touring nationally.
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Sucker Punch ON TOUR
Our review on Sucker Punch
Sucker Punch - The Lowry, Salford - Tuesday 2nd May 2023 by Lizzie Johnston
SUCKER PUNCH IS A HARD HITTING AND PUNCHY KNOCKOUT OF A PLAY THAT DELIVERS A FIERCE AND HEARTFELT MESSAGE
Sucker Punch is a period piece by British dramatist Roy Williams which first hit the stage in 2010. It went on to become nominated for Best New Play at both the Evening Standard and Olivier Awards, so we knew we'd see some quality theatre. This performance is a Theatre Nation Partnerships production, produced by Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch and is making its regional debut at The Lowry Theatre.
Hits from the 80s were playing as we entered the theatre and a couple of the characters were already on stage, setting up for training by skipping and putting on boxing gloves. There was no harsh start, it just flowed straight into the action.
The story begins with two best mates, Leon and Troy, who have been made to work as cleaners in a boxing gym instead of calling the police after a break in. As two young black teenagers, the duo have spent their youth figuring out their place in the world and wanting to have the same opportunities as their white peers. With the boxing ring in their reach, they step in to play about which leads to the owner, Charlie, noticing the potential boxing champion in one of the boys, Leon.
The set is exactly what you’d expect a 1980s boxing club to look like. A boxing ring takes centre stage, it’s where most of the action takes place with Leon rarely leaving the ring. On a mezzanine at the back is Charlie’s office and lockers, a sliding door and punching bags complete the club. The costumes were exactly what you’d expect to pick up from a thrift shop, authentic 80s wear topped off with colourful shell jackets.
Sucker Punch focuses on the pressures of young black people in the 80s and the stigma they were up against. The struggles for Leon all stem from this, with his close circle leaving him as they think he’s turning to the other side, as Charlie is white, yet Charlie discriminates and calls him whenever they disagree and argue.
Shem Hamilton’s Leon is both strong and fragile, easily influenced as he doesn’t want to let people down. His strength comes from his love of boxing and wanting to be successful, but it’s other people’s opinions that really get to him. Hamilton takes Leon through the ups and downs of success, from having his close friend Troy with him constantly to losing everyone around him, except for trainer and manager Charlie.
Charlie is another character with several layers, who’s had problems for years. Liam Smith adds depth to the character and an understanding of built up trauma and how this causes his anger to flare up in a switch, yet his performance is understated and visibly shows the tension he feels. Troy, played by Christian Alifoe, is an intense and proud portrayal of the character’s roots. Once Leon’s best friend, he leaves him to fight away from the ring, getting into trouble with the police and standing up for his community. When the two friends are reunited in the ultimate battle, it is a brutal display of how the politics and stigma of the 80s pulled apart these strong bonds.
The play isn’t an intense drama as it is filled with light comedic moments, with banter flowing between characters that you’d expect to see between teenagers in a playground. There were chuckles and laughter coming from the audience throughout these lighter parts. This balanced out the deep and tense dialogue that hit hard, showing the true effect of Thatcher’s era on black communities.
The play will have you in a headlock as it takes you on an exciting journey following a boxing superstar.
WE SCORE SUCKER PUNCH...
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