ONE of the North East's most successful boxers is supporting a critically-acclaimed play which arrives in the region next month.

Sunderland's Billy Hardy, who won British, European and Commonwealth boxing titles, will be among the audience at Sucker Punch, an award-winning play which is at The Fire Station between Wednesday, June 21 and Friday, June 23.

The arrival of Sucker Punch is part of Sunderland Culture and Sunderland Empire’s National Theatre-led Theatre Nation Partnerships (TNP) programme, an innovative initiative working to grow theatre audiences across England. As part of the partnership Sucker Punch ends a national tour at The Fire Station.

The play, by leading British playwright Roy Williams, tells the story of two best friends, Leon and Troy, who have spent their teenage years growing up in a boxing gym.

Sucker Punch explores themes such as class, anger, poverty and of being young and black in the 1980s and first opened at London’s Royal Court in 2010. The show won the Alfred Fagon Award, the Writers Guild Award for Best Play and was also nominated for an Olivier Award.

The Fire Station stage will be transformed into a boxing ring for the play, which producers say is “a thrillingly-staged spectacle of blood, sweat and tears.” Sucker Punch is also described ‘tender, bruising and funny.’

The Northern Echo: Sucker Punch is coming to Sunderland in JuneSucker Punch is coming to Sunderland in June (Image: SUNDERLAND CULTURE)

Billy Hardy will take part in a question and answer session with experienced sports journalist Graeme Anderson before the opening performance on June 21.

Billy said: “I'm looking forward to the Q&A and I'm looking forward to meeting the cast of Sucker Punch and watching the show.

"I've heard details about the show from my old boxing pal Michael Watson (Commonwealth middleweight champion 1989-1991) who did a Q&A when the show was staged in London and he had only good things to say about it.

"I trained with Michael when we were both young boxers in London in the 80s and he went on to fight for the world middleweight title three times before his career was tragically cut short at his peak, but he's very involved in a lot of things and has nothing but praise for the issues Sucker Punch tackles.

"I think it's great that boxing is taking centre stage in a theatre production.

"They might seem like very different worlds but there are similarities there in terms of performance, nerves, entertainment, confidence and bravery.”

Mr Anderson will interview Billy on the night about the tough upbringing the Hylton Castle scrapper overcame to win international boxing fame and the session will also give the public the chance to ask their own questions of the former champ.

The Northern Echo: Graeme Anderson and Billy Hardy, left, at The Fire StationGraeme Anderson and Billy Hardy, left, at The Fire Station (Image: SUNDERLAND CULTURE)

Graeme said: "I was lucky enough to cover the last few years of Billy's career and travelled around the country and across Europe reporting on what was an amazing Indian summer for him, full of great fights and good times.

"I'm looking forward to reminding people what a great character he is and how proud he did the people of Sunderland and also just what a good boxer he was.

"I also think it's great that boxing fans will be able to ask him anything they want to about his life in boxing because Billy always throws back answers as straight and powerful as anything he threw in the ring.

"It's that straightness and honesty I always used to enjoy whenever I met boxers - they have the hardest task of any sports people but so often, what you see is what you get, and that's a trait Billy has always had.”

Billy Hardy started boxing at Hylton Castle Boys Club aged six. He went on to have a glittering career, normally showing his allegiances by fighting in red and white striped boxing shorts.

He was the British bantamweight champion before fighting Orlando Canizales for the world title at Crowtree Leisure Centre in 1990. Billy lost on a split decision – and went on to lose the rematch six months later.

Billy moved up a weight in 1992 and became Commonwealth Featherweight champion a year later. He added the British Featherweight title in 1994 and in 1995 also became European Featherweight champion. Billy’s biggest fight was against fellow Englishman Naseem Hamed, who he fought for the WBO and IBF world Featherweight titles. The fight was in Manchester in May 1997 when Naseem emerged the victor.

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Sucker Punch contains strong adult language and is suitable for those aged 14 or over.

The play is produced by Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch, supported by National Theatre.

For tickets, priced from £11, please go to