When it comes to drama, you don’t get much better than top-level boxing.
From Calzaghe to Ali, glittering showcases of blood, sweat and headline-grabbing knockouts have gripped audiences for years. But very rarely do you see behind the gloves and the broken noses.
Cardiff-based Broken Souls aims to tell the tale both inside and outside the ring with their first production Shadow Boxing.
An audience of just 30 was bused from Chapter Arts Centre to the boxing gym, decorated with lifesize posters of champions and their glittering belts. Taking to the ring was Flynn, played by Alex Harries, a boxer scarred by his father’s humiliating defeat and determined to be the best.
But he has to come to terms with his own identity first. Flynn’s tale is one which challenges the brutal stereotypes of boxing as he battles for a sense of self-respect.
Like a well-timed hook, Shadow Boxing hits you when you least expect it. Harries shuffles, jabs and skips his way through his 50-minute monologue without pause.
The sheer physicality of his role is staggering – rarely does an actor have to deliver heart-wrenching dialogue punctuated by uppercuts.
Director James Ashton’s decision to take the production out of the theatre and into a real-life boxing ring was the right call. He originally saw the production, written by Bad Girls actor James Gaddas, onstage at the Edinburgh Fringe when he was just 15 years old.
In a one-man production you need something to draw the audience into the protagonist’s world and the audience is right at the heart of the action. Harries bobbed and weaved his way through the audience, catching someone’s eye now and then with an unfaltering gaze as Flynn recounted his father’s degrading loss. In seconds, he’d switch from remembering the devastation of a young boy desperate to be proud of his father to a boxing king gleefully giving a blow-by-blow account of his numerous wins in the ring.
As Harries sweated his way through each anecdote, with audience members dodging the swing of the punchbag from time to time, the sweltering heat in the Phoenix Boxing Gym grew to near-suffocating levels – but Flynn had everyone gripped until the show’s conclusion.
Shadow Boxing runs until tomorrow (July 27). For full details, visit: www.chapter.org