Hope Theatre Company bring us this brutal and beautiful production exploring sexuality through the lens of two boxers. This is a refreshingly unique glimpse into the lives of two men experiencing a love which dare not mention its name, and the potential repercussions when stereotypical masculinity is perceived to be challenged.
A delicately exquisite journey into the arena of male sexuality, intimacy and social acceptance
Directed by Adam Zane, we are aware we are about to embark on a resplendent journey thick with pathos and importance as Dane Samson, the boxing pro, and Gorgeous George, the gypsy bare knuckle fighter, set the scene. Both utilise an almost poetic rhyme as they eloquently narrate their journey so far. Words flow in a beautiful tide of sound as John Askew, playing Samson, enthuses boldly about his winning arena fight that evening. Rob Ward, writer and producer, projects a bolshy, cocky persona in George, self-confessed vulture and vermin, King of the Streets and always on the lookout for a scrap. Their lives become intertwined when Samson’s father, tired of his son’s lack of ‘killer instinct’, recruits George to their pro boxing gym to train him up for the kill. What results is a force of nature which will leave everyone forever changed.
Everything about this production is slick, skilful, tender and enticing. Askew and Ward are physically convincing, with muscled physiques and personas to match. Both additionally adopt various alternative personas including Samson’s dad; George’s mum; Samson’s casual lover, and more. Their use of props to fully inhabit these other characters is seamless and smooth, not detracting from the story but serving to enhance it. The physical stage, which is a locker room at the boxing gym, has been designed to be transformed into many other settings – a family home; a sauna; a christening; a cinema – and this happens fluidly and becomes a pivotal aspect of the performance.
This beautiful gem challenges so many stereotypes, particularly around the sexualisation of gay men. Dane and George are attracted to each other, however rather than the uber-sexual characterisation of gay men we have come to expect, this is a raw and realistic portrayal of two men who are emotionally connected first and foremost. It’s this emotional intimacy, paradoxical with the backdrop of their ultra masculine boxing careers, which elevates the story to a mind blowing conclusion. Further enhancing this performance is the brutal, stark and honest reflection on what can happen when toxic masculinity is threatened. Rather than dwell on the coming out experiences of the two men, the story focuses more on the conceptions of the people around them and an interesting lesson to be learned on how one can find acceptance in the strangest of places.
There is a real beauty in the movement of the characters, particularly the almost theatrical motion in which they play out a love scene. With a story and direction that will challenge everything you ever believed, this is a delicately exquisite journey into the arena of male sexuality, intimacy and social acceptance which left many audience members in tears of emotion.