Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Shadow Boxing ***1/2

Shadow Boxing 
By James Gaddas, by Groundswell Division
Tower Theatre, Malthouse, Jan 20 to Feb 6, 2010
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars: ***1/2
Published in Herald Sun

Shadow Boxing, by James Gaddas, is an intensely physical one-man play that combines the gritty, street language of a professional boxer with a more poetical and tender style. Matt Rainey is compelling as Flynn, a talented, and ambitious young professional boxer who fights to win respect and to conceal his secrets.

Flynn arrives, bruised and blood-spattered, at a boxing studio. He seems haunted by his past and the memories of his childhood witnessing his father, a tenacious but hopeless boxer, lose fight after fight. Flynn confronts the audience directly as he self-narrates his story of pain, loss, ambition and sexual confusion.

He relives his schoolboy pleas to learn to read, his first and only sexual experience with a girl, his introduction to boxing, his 14 straight match wins and, finally, his title fight. He calls his right fist “the Apocalypse” and sees his hands as both creators and purveyors of violence. Fighters, he says, are animals, but he craves to move like a dancer. He is determined to earn the title, money and prestige but, even more, he yearns for respect.

Rainey brings passion, muscularity as well as poignancy to Flynn’s story. He inhabits Flynn, capturing a fine balance between his vulnerability and his violence. As he pounds the punching bag, we can feel Flynn’s desperation and fear, his childlike need for love and respect and his panic as he waits to face the consequences of his violent actions.

Gil Tucker, former television actor, directs Rainey with a deft hand, maintaining a brisk pace and escalating drama. His economical direction and Dayna Morrissey’s spare design keep the focus on Flynn’s inner turmoil. Danny Pettingill’s lighting and Liam Barton’s sound design are simple but evocative.

Flynn’s fight is with himself rather than his opponents as he struggles to overcome childhood bullying, shame about his father’s failure and uncertainty about his own identity. Shadow Boxing is a tight, well-acted and moving short play with something to say about male violence.

By Kate Herbert

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