Pros: A fascinating plot and strong performances from both the actors.
Cons: The story misses the exciting sensation that you would no doubt feel ringside.
If I were to ask you who your favourite boxer was, who would you say? Muhammad Ali, Frank Bruno or perhaps even Mike Tyson? Well, whoever you’d say, it probably wouldn’t be the legendary bareknuckle boxer Tom Molineaux, would it? In fact, have you even heard of him? Some of you may have. I, had not.
Born on a plantation in Virginia, Tom Molineaux was an African American boxer of the 1800s. He was strong and a good fighter. After smacking down many and making his master and himself a great deal of money, he was released from slavery and given his freedom. Ambitious and determined, he decided to make his way across the water to England where he dreamed of becoming a champion.
Bareknuckle boxing isn’t your usual topic for a stage play, nor perhaps one that most theatre-going folk would choose. But don’t be fooled, this play is about so much more. Walking into the Jack, the audience take their seats ringside. There are two chairs on adjacent corners, various metal tankards, a changing screen and of course, the ring itself. It is dark and misty. This is not a happy tale of how a once-slave made his millions; it’s the story of a man’s journey to the top and his agonising fall to the bottom.
Written by Tom Green, this 75-minute, two-man show is a portrayal of Tom Molineaux’s boxing exchanges with English champion Tom Cribb, who in 1810 came out of retirement to fight against him. The story is narrated by Nathan Medina and Brandon O’Rourke, who plays Pierce Egan, a boxing writer of the time who befriended Molineaux and took him under his wing. Through narration and sparring and some very well-rehearsed individual stage combat, the pair reimagine the marathon fight that happened between Molineaux and Cribb, and the effects of it thereafter.
O’Rourke and Medina make a good pairing and give some excellent, highly physical performances. Medina impresses as he flexes and tenses before a fight. The smell of the sweat that pours from them as they give their performances in the ring helps to create the atmosphere of the fight, helps you imagine the hustle and bustle of the match. A cheeky Irish chappy, O’Rourke does well at injecting some much needed shade into the piece with his playful light-heartedness. But the story is dark and I found both characters to be quite unlikeable, making it difficult to feel much empathy towards either of them.
I also felt a little disappointed by the lack of tension or build-up in the main fight scene. Even though the narration of it is so detailed, the pace seems to remain the same and whilst you’re waiting for a moment of excitement when you hold your breath and peep behind your fingers, it doesn’t quite come. Despite this, the writing of the play is excellent and the story is sensational. Unfortunately, it is just missing the excitement that is no doubt felt around the corners of the boxing ring.
Author: Tom Green
Director: Kate Bannister
Producers: Jack Studio Theatre and Tom Green
Box Office: 0333 666 3366
Booking Link: http://www.brockleyjack.co.uk/portfolio/tom-molineaux/
Booking Until: 3 June 2017