Sucker Punch

“Delivering a powerful blow”

Upon first glance, a play about boxing did not really appeal to me, but Sucker Punch was way more than that and delivered a powerful blow through its story-telling and performances by a very talented cast of 7.

Written by award-winning British playwright Roy Williams, Sucker Punch is based in a London Boxing Gym in the 1980’s when racism was still very much present and is a big feature of this play with many racial slurs between characters. We first meet Charlie (Liam Smith) the gym owner and Tommy (John Rogers) a budding boxer training to be the next big thing.  Smith played Charlie with grit and was able to deliver a rounded performance of a ‘has been’ fighter who wants nothing more than to be responsible for the next championship boxer. 

We then meet two black boys, Troy (Christian Alifoe) and Leon (Shem Hamilton) members of the gym who are treated more as cleaners than boxers by white owner Charlie.  It’s not until Leon is spotted by Charlie that he decides to start training him.  Troy is a troublesome character involved in many run ins with the Police, leading him to reconsider his friendship with Leon and he leaves for America.  During this time, Leon becomes very successful, but all the money and fame goes to his head. 

Hamilton and Alifoe were the standout performers in this show.  Every scene between the two were fast paced and well scripted with some funny moments.  Hamilton especially, who has the lion share of dialogue was able to command the stage and show a range of emotions.

Comic relief came at the hands of Leon’s father Squid played wonderfully by Wayne Rollins.  He was constantly after Leon’s money, dating a multitude of women and gambling.  With his strong Jamaican accent, Rollins was a joy to watch and certainly lightened the mood on many occasions.

During his time at the gym Leon starts a relationship with Charlie’s daughter Becky (Poppy Winter), however as soon as Charlie finds out that his daughter is associating with a black man, he is made to choose between his fighting career or Becky…..he chooses the boxing gloves.   Leon’s career was going from strength to strength and the time came to fight an American boxer looked after by Ray (Ray Strasser-King)……this boxer being his old friend Troy.  The relationship between the pair when they met again was fraught with Troy, and his new American accent, disassociating himself from Leon.  Troy never forgave Leon for leaving him during one of his many fights with the Police and that stuck with him over the years.  The fight takes place, but I won’t spoil how it finished. 

The staging designed by Sandra Falase consists of a boxing ring where most of the action takes place.  We are transported into the gym with its lockers, hanging punch bags and Charlie’s office which remains throughout.

Fight Director Enric Ortuño should be commended for the realistic and natural fight scenes that took place throughout the show, they really did add to the drama of the piece. 

With a talented cast, this story of race, friendship and determination is well worth a visit. 

Sucker Punch plays at the Wolverhampton Grand Theatre until the 16th June 2023.  Tickets available here: SUCKER PUNCH | Wolverhampton Grand Theatre

Tour details here: Sucker Punch on tour - National Theatre

Photo credit: Manuel Harlan

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