There have been plenty of examples over the years of film stars who’ve transformed themselves physically to portray boxers on screen.
Robert De Niro in Raging Bull, Daniel Day Lewis in The Boxer and Sylvester Stallone in Rocky all famously honed their physiques with gruelling work-out schedules in an effort to pass themselves off as professional pugilists for a movie role.
And now Cardiff-based theatre company Broken Souls is hoping to deliver a similarly knock-out piece of drama in the form of Shadowboxing, an intense one-man show which actually unfolds before audiences in a real-life training gym.
Amateur fighter-turned-actor Alex Harries plays Flynn, a young man desperate to succeed in the sport and step out from the shadow of his father’s own humiliating defeat in the ring years earlier.
But can he rise to the even bigger challenge of accepting and overcoming his past, defeating his prejudices and, most of all, coming to terms with his true identity?
“Actually Alex’s greatest problem is probably going to be not collapsing mid-performance from this heat-wave we’re having, “ laughs the play’s director James Ashton, who formed the company with Brynaman-born Harries while the pair were studying drama in Edinburgh.
“It’s 50 minutes to an hour long and it’s a really physical production, with him skipping, jabbing and bobbing and weaving while telling the story. So, in these roasting temperatures he’s really going to feel the strain.”
But having spent weeks being put through his paces by some real-life heavy-hitters – the members of the Phoenix gym in Llanrumney, Cardiff, where the performances will take place – Ashton adds he should be in peak condition.
“Alex has approached this role as he would a fight, but we’ve managed to give him a good balance of light and shade throughout, just so it’s not too exhausting,” says the 32-year-old from Llantrisant.
“He’s lucky we’re only on for a week and didn’t stick with our original plan of letting the show run a whole month – I think that may have finished him off altogether.”
Ashton first came across the play, which is written by Bad Girls actor James Gaddas, at Edinburgh when he was 17 and has been fascinated with it ever since.
“I loved it and couldn’t get it out of my head. So when I met Alex and he told me he used to box everything sort of clicked.”
But their plans to stage it themselves would be dealt a hefty blow.
“We tried to get the rights to do it but failed – we couldn’t get a published copy of the script anywhere and all efforts to contact James Gaddas seemed to fall on deaf ears.
“But, as luck would have it, Alex landed himself a part on Emmerdale at the exact same time as Gaddas was also appearing and when he told him about what we wanted to do he just replied, ‘Sure, go for it’.”
Authenticity aside though, why perform it in a boxing gym and not a theatre?
“It’s all about bringing theatre to the community and vice versa,” he says. “As a company we want to get people who wouldn’t normally be interested to come along a watch a show.
“And, by setting it away from a traditional stage and in a place where they can walk in and out of the punch bags and smell the sweat and the leather of the gloves, our aim is to totally immerse them in the action.”
And that site-specific ethos, he adds, is a throw-back to his student days in Scotland.
“I’ve long been a fan of the Edinburgh-based company Grid Iron and they used to put on plays in all sorts of places, from airports to shops and pubs.
“So when our audience picks up their tickets for the show at Chapter Arts Centre they will then be taken on a bus to the site of the performance.
“There will be a few of us dressed to look like boxers and the onboard DVD player will be showing fight footage – it’s all about creating a buzz by taking people out of their comfort zone a little bit.
“Plus, we’re putting on our piece in what’s essentially a purpose-built set, which helps no end with the budget.”
And, like any sporting champions worth their salt, Ashton and Harries aren’t about to rest on their laurels and are already thinking about the next challenge.
“We’ve got an idea for a play about an old blues singer and am looking into setting it in some dingy music dive,” he smiles.
“Also, a friend of ours has written something about Freud and the human mind and I’m going to scout around for some caves in which to set it.
“Caves which can be mapped like different sections of the brain – wouldn’t that be something?”
Shadowboxing runs at the Phoenix Gym in Llanrumney, Cardiff, from July 23 to 27. For tickets, call 029 2030 4400 or visit www.chapter.org