REVIEW: Sucker Punch, The Fire Station, Sunderland

Sucker Punch, which you can still catch at the Fire Station in SunderLand tonight (Fri), is a knock-out production centred on the exhilarating but unforgiving world of boxing.

There are moments of intensity that can leave you winded and, all too briefly, moments of triumph set among the tragedy of a society imploding at the time of London’s Brixton riots in the 1980s.

There’s also a lot of funny lines in Roy Williams’ play with toilet humour, (quite literally), being a running theme, even as the faultlines of casual racism on both sides of the black/white divide are continually and forensically examined.

At the centre of it all though is boxing, with every character in the play hoping that the world’s toughest sport might also be a passport from rags to riches and their way out of the social problems which blight their lives.

The Northern Echo:

A bespoke boxing ring centre stage, purposely reduced from competition size, still provides the realistic feel of a fight or sparring scene but also generates a sense of claustrophobia; of characters living on top of each other, of the walls closing in.

There are plenty of recognisable characters here for those who have watched the early Rocky films - world-weary trainer Charlie for example, (superbly played here by Liam Smith), battles his demons while dreaming of finding a fighter he can train to hit the big-time.

In the hands of talented actors Shem Hamilton and Christian Alifoe, best mates Leon and Troy are shown by turns as cocky and confident but also scared and uncertain as they make their way in the game.

Competitive sport is one of the hardest things to bring to a stage and the production team deserve every credit for doing it so successfully here.

The actual fights are mainly told in flashback ‘’out-of-body’ sequences, which tally up wins and losses rapidly without having to stage numerous fights.

The Northern Echo:

Only the climactic battles - Leon fighting fractious gym rival, white boxer, Tommy (John Rogers), and finally entering the ring against Troy, are given full rein.

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This is a play which will give you plenty of food for thought - of trainer Charlie’s reckoning with his own flaws, of his daughter Becky (Poppy Winter), struggling to hold things together and find love in a time of casual but corrosive racism.

And of Troy and Leon, friends forced apart and pulled together by the imperfect world they inhabit, who have to face up to the fact that the biggest losses can occur outside of a boxing ring.

Produced by Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch, supported by National Theatre for the Theatre Nation Partnership, this is a great chance for North East audiences to see a regional premiere performed by actors at the top of their game.

  • Performance: Tonight (Friday, June 23), show starts 7.30pm, tickets from £11. Recommended for ages 14+. Contains strong/adult language