I suspect that not many of the audience at Dock X Canada Water were around in 1974, and although I only saw newsreel footage at the time, I still remember the hype, the images, the obvious heat, the intensity of the environment and the raw aggression of George Foreman vs Muhammad Ali’s ‘Rumble in the Jungle’. This fight is a very difficult situation to recreate in a chilly warehouse in December, but heck they try. The space is vast and the audience sparse, but the actors give it their all, interacting with passing spectators, striking up conversations about who would win. It must be exhausting getting blood out of that stone.
Written by Tristan Fynn-Aiduenu and directed by Miguel H Torres Umba this immersive show takes on the challenge of asking us to act as if we don’t know the outcome. More to the point it shows us the games that were played at the time politically, via the media, promoters, and government, to whip up a frenzy of combat in the name of black power.
The protagonists, Ali (played by Kimane Juneau) and Foreman (played by Joshua C Jackson) never drop out of character. Ali, skipping and dancing during a training bout, is charismatic and sure of his ability to win. Foreman, more muscular, heavier but looking stronger, you feel is maybe not quite in the zone – no reflection on the acting, this is the character.
Given the amount of time between activities such as the training bouts or the excellent interviews conducted by David Frost (played by Timothy O’Hara) it does start to drag a little. Everything picks up with the re-creation of the concert that had to fill three nights of the five-week delay to the match due to Foreman incurring a cut eye in training. Guy Kelton-Jones is a fabulous James Brown, complete with that hair; and talking of hair Anelisa Lamola is a great Miriam Makeba. Completing the trio is Junaita Euka as Celia Cruz. Everyone was on their feet, either dancing or trawling the food and drink outlets.
Then of course comes the big fight that we’ve all been waiting for. The big screen behind the ring alternates footage from the original match and the choreography in the ring before us. Alex Payne’s fight direction deserves a special mention: it is realistic and compelling, during the sparring and right through to the match itself.
While some of us knew that Ali spending time on the ropes was a calculated move, it didn’t take anything from the sad, chilling sight of these two men slugging it out in a last-ditch attempt to be world champion, beset by baying officials. Ali’s soliloquy at the end of the match is particularly moving, mapping his conversion to Islam and refusal to fight in Vietnam, and also would be his future; suffering from Parkinson’s disease. Foreman’s final speech, however, is made somewhat comedic by the vision of him fronting the Foreman Grill.
Rumble Rematch isn’t as immersive as I had expected it to be, and it certainly didn’t conjure up the feeling of 1974 Zaire. But that aside, it is an interesting and thought-provoking show that made me consider whether boxing is a sport or a spectacle.
Written by: Tristan Fynn-Aiduenu
Directed by: Miguel H Torres Umba
Fight director: Alex Payne
Rumble Rematch has completed its current run.