Produced by Theatre Travels and One Good Act, directed by Carly Fisher
Reviewed by Justin Clarke
Theatre Travels Productions and One Good Act transport us back to 1869 Victorian London, to a theatre where only the strongest survive. Four very different women from four very different walks of life are brought into the dark underground world of female boxing; the result being unexpected freedom beyond the constraints of their corsets and the patriarchal world. Playwright Joy Wilkinson’s The Sweet Science of Bruising weaves a comical and tragic and tale that resonates beyond its setting.
Directed by Carly Fisher, The Sweet Science of Bruising holds empowerment for women from all walks of life. Focusing heavily on the ideas of patriarchy, we follow the tale of four women: subdued wife Anna (Sonya Kerr), the intellectual go-getter Violet (Kitty Simpson), rough and ready pugilist Polly (Esther Williams) and the bravado-filled woman of the night, Matty Blackwell (Kian Pittman). Donning a range of accents, each actress brings a superb performance. Whether it’s Williams non-stop energy, Kerr’s heartbreaking narrative, Pittman’s seductively rough-edged characterization, or Simpson’s performance which gives the show its heart, the show can be sold on their performances alone.
With impressively strong performances by its four leads and the supporting cast, this is a show that, with a few more technical tweaks, can really offer a K.O.
Under the direction of Fisher, there is no weak link in the cast. Cormac Costello’s Professor Charles Sharp is a constant delight on stage and brings depth to what could have been a two-dimensional role. Costello’s wry cheek and obvious care for the women he brings into the world of boxing goes beyond his greed and desire to make his “sweet science” a success. Davey Seagle’s portrayal as the violent husband to Anna, Gabriel, is cold and calculating. Raechyl French’s dual roles as Emily and Nancy brings a shining light whenever she enters the stage – she embodies the saying, “there are no small parts”.
The Sweet Science of Bruising’s production design (Hannah Yardley) is cold and recreates the streets of Victorian London and the underground boxing rings with a brick staging and dimly lit archways. Lighting design by Capri Harris adds warmth to settings where necessary and darkens the set in others – as Matty Blakwell wanders the sides of the stage, you can feel the Thames nearby thanks the wavy blue hue cast. At times the choice in lighting seemed off, and perhaps too dim. Direction and lighting could have been developed to really highlight the “underworld” atmosphere of the boxing – however the lowering bulbs for each boxing match was a nice touch.
Costume designer Bella Rose Saltearn’s period dresses were so well made and realistically worn, which perfectly added to the overall reality of the world being created. You could really feel the tight corsets, and the uncomfortable movements of having to fight in such expansive gowns.
As for the key event – the boxing – there were missed opportunities to really land a punch – pun intended. With fight choreography by Tim Dashwood providing the foundations of the boxing movements, there was much more scope for realism. The only fight which really drew you in was the final battle between…well, no spoilers…however this was mainly due to Wilkinson’s writing. It would have been impressive and impactful to see these actors really throw themselves into the believability of the boxing, instead of large swings and small scuffles, which would have ultimately added the emotional depth and freedom in each character’s story.
The Sweet Science of Bruising offers an impactful, emotionally powerful, and thematically resonant production. With impressively strong performances by its four leads and the supporting cast, this is a show that, with a few more technical tweaks, can really offer a K.O.
Image Credit – Becky Matthews
The Sweet Science of Bruising plays at the Flight Path Theatre until the 3rd July. Tickets can be booked here.
CAST AND CREATIVES
Anna – Sonya Kerr
Aunt George – Michelle Masefield
Dr James – Antony Makhlouf
Emily/ Nancy – Raechyl French
Gabriel – Davey Seagle
Matty – Kian Pitman
Paul – Benjamin Balte Russell
Polly – Esther Williams
Professor – Cormac Costello
Violet – Kitty Simpson
Crew and Creatives
Producers – Theatre Travels and One Good Act
Director – Carly Fisher
Stage Manager – Natalie Low
Lighting Associate – Sophie Parker
Lighting Designer – Capri Harris
Production Designer – Hannah Yardley
Costume Designer – Bella Rose Saltearn
Sound Designer – Akesiu Poitaha
Assistant Director – Rosie Niven
Accent & Dialect Coach – Linda Nicholls-Gidley
Fight Choreographer – Tim Dashwood
Assistant Stage Managers – Promise Mudzingwa and Joss Chalmers
Assistant Production Designer – Jade Gillis
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