Pros: Impressive fight scenes and an interesting and nuanced story.
Cons: Lacks some direction and ends rather abruptly leaving the audience unsure as to what story it is trying to get across.
Tell people that you’re going to see a show about boxing prostitutes, and that should probably be enough to persuade them to come along too. Unfortunately, in its current state, Punching Jane is a bit of a punch-out in that it has promise but doesn’t quite hit the mark.
It’s an interesting idea for a play: a group of prostitutes who also moonlight as bare knuckled fighters. The “Johns” get to enjoy them fight and then can enjoy them in other ways too. The girls convince themselves that this is the best of a bad bunch. It’s a play about rivalry, betrayal and power from the perspective of new arrival Jane (Emma Pilson) who is taken into The Stables brothel by Mother Elizabeth (Hayley Thompson). Entered into a show fight with the alpha prostitute, Mary (Kayleigh Hawkins), she sees it as a test and instead of playing along and allowing her to win, knocks her out. As a result she must feel the wrath of Mother Elizabeth, the other girls and the owner of the brothel, Thomas (Ed Young), setting off a chain of events which changes their lives.
The first half of the play very much builds up the characters of the girls and their relationships. There’s Mary as the alpha female; sensitive and slightly simple Molly (Jinny Lofthouse) who is under the protection of everyone in the house; Jane, the strong newcomer not afraid to get what she wants; and Mother Elizabeth, who won’t let anything happen to her family and will do anything to ensure that they are protected. These women’s relationships are very well portrayed and the audience really begin to learn more about them. However, this is soon overshadowed by the new storyline that is weaved in of the relationships between the girls and the owner of the house Thomas and his cousin employee, Harry (Tom Ziebell). Neither of these characters are given a chance to grow and therefore feel fairly implausible in their roles. When Harry falls for Molly, the relationship is unconvincing and Thomas’ own motives towards Mary are also unclear.
On a positive note, the fight scenes are impressive, with the final scene inducing gasps from the audience. It is quite violent and convincing, which is a feat considering the audience’s proximity to the stage in this small theatre. There are also some lovely and poignant songs sung by the cast that bring them together as an ensemble as well as portraying the emotion in certain scenes well.
The name of the show being Punching Jane along with the blurb, makes you think it’s her story and that she is the main character. However, if this is the intention, it doesn’t come across that way during the performance. Maybe it’s about women, maybe it’s the story of one of the individual girls, or the man who owns the bawdy house or is it about the Johns who use it? We are left wondering. With so much potential, I really hope that some extra work is done to the writing and direction of this play as it is an intriguing concept and well performed.
Authors: Ed Young and Jess Farley
Director: Jess Farley
Booking until: 29 June 2014
Box office: 0844 477 1000