In 21st century Britain, equality and inclusion are bywords, particularly in sport, where women have parity across the board. However, boxing was much slower off the mark. Great Britain’s Nicola Adams was the first woman to win boxing gold at the London Olympics in 2012. Women have boxed for as long as their male counterparts, although for many years viewed as a novelty rather than credible pugilism. There is evidence of women boxing in the 1700s; Elizabeth Wilkinson was the self-styled European Championess fighting both men and women. In the UK it remained largely underground and stifled by gender etiquette. It wasn’t until 1998 that the British Boxing Board of Control issued licences to women.
The Sweet Science of Bruising lands in Victorian London where Professor Charlie Sharp (Owen Brenman) is seeking fighters for his show at the Angel. He finds gritty northern lass Polly Stokes (Fiona Skinner) anxious to be a champion; while brother Paul (Tom Lorcan) feels he is the greater prospect. Sharp brings both to London but who can he match against Polly? Respectable middle class Violet Hunter (Celeste Dodwell) is desperate to train as a doctor but needs to fund her studies in Paris; will she take the coin offered by Sharp? Anna Lamb (Emma McDonald) is trapped in a loveless, abusive marraige and sees boxing as an escape. Matty Blackwell (Jessica Regan) is a good time girl who craves the notoriety that boxing attracts. Sharp sets up a title eliminator but who will emerge as champion?
Wilton’s Music Hall is an authentic Victorian venue and the perfect home for a play set in the same period. It’s an inspired choice which enhances the raw power of a story featuring the most unforgiving of sports. Author Joy Wilkinson cleverly portrays four women born on different sides of life. They might have little in common but all are attracted by the brutal simplicity of boxing. Poverty and privilege are equal motivators as they seek recognition in a man’s world. The fight sequences are well staged and reasonably convincing. They don’t require further elaboration as the emphasis rightly falls on the characters’ motivation.
The Sweet Science of Bruising is top notch writing utilising a brilliantly atmospheric venue. The unique dimensions of Wilton’s create contrasting light and shade and used to great effect in the obvious physicality of performance. The excellent cast applied themselves superbly; particularly Fiona Skinner who delivered a great turn as tomboy Polly.
Author: Joy Wilkinson
Director: Kirsty Patrick Ward
Fight Director: Kate Walters
Box Office: 0207 702 2789
Booking Link: https://www.wiltons.org.uk/whatson/519-the-sweet-science-of-bruising
Booking Until: 29 June 2019