Cornermen treads a well-worn narrative path: the tale of a young man, plucked from obscurity to rise to fame and success. However, this is as much the story of our young hero, boxer Sid Sparks (Andrew Livingstone), as his ruthless mentor, Mickey (portrayed excellently by James Barbour).

Cornermen is affecting because there is a certain universality in it, despite the fact it is set in a very specific world.

Though the story is simple and we can usually predict what is going to happen, the telling of it is tense enough to still be compelling. The characters are well drawn and multi-faceted, which makes us immediately interested in their journeys. Each of them undergoes a transformation of sorts throughout the piece, which asks us what the price of success is. Is it worth compromising your morals for?

All four performances are strong and the production slick, with the world of boxing evoked well through a very simple set and costumes. The atmospheric venue seems like a perfect choice for this play. The writing is tight and insightful. The scenes of interaction between the characters are interspersed with moments of direct address, which allows us a glimpse into each of the character’s thoughts; though, notably, Sid doesn’t get a chance to speak for himself until the end.

The boxing scenes are not acted out onstage, which is a wise choice. Instead, they are represented through the reactions of the cornermen and the breaks Sid has between rounds. This is much subtler and more effective, as the central interest of the play is not the boxing itself, but the relationships between Sid and his coaches.

The plight of Sid Sparks works as a metaphor for any sort of career where one has to work hard and face tough choices. Immediately, the film Whiplash jumps to mind, where the challenge is drumming rather than boxing, but it’s all representative of the same thing: the dark side of talent and ambition. Cornermen is affecting because there is a certain universality in it, despite the fact it is set in a very specific world. This is a strong play and a real achievement – one of my highlights so far. 

Reviews by Marni Appleton

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The Blurb

Mickey and his team of cornermen never seem to have much luck in the boxing world. The fighters they manage always end up losing and, after a disastrous last outing, no one wants to work with them. Until, that is, they sign a young boxer whose winning ways catapult them into a world of success they've never had before. However, you can't win all the time and soon Mickey has to choose between the life he's enjoying, and the well-being of his young charge. Both tragic and funny, Cornermen marks Smoke and Oakum's third show at the Edinburgh Festival.