Review: Sucker Punch at The Fire Station

Review: Sucker Punch at The Fire Station

Sucker Punch by Roy Williams

The Fire Station, Sunderland

21st June 2023

A new venue for me this evening so a little bit about that first. The Fire Station is a relatively new venue very near to The Sunderland Empire. It’s a similar kind of space to that which Northern Stage occupies but is very new in design. There is an ample bar area adjacent to the box office and also a large bistro and bar which offers a selection of beverages and a good menu of food if you want to grab a bite before your night’s entertainment. The auditorium is spacious and has a good specification for theatre and concert performances. I was suitably impressed. The staff are welcoming and friendly and I look forward to returning in the very near future. There is a more relaxed feel to the venue than a traditional theatre which is most pleasant.

Sucker Punch is eloquently written by award winning and renowned playwright, Roy Williams, with whom I am familiar for his stage adaptation of Unexpected Twist which I saw last year at The Theatre Royal. This is a hard-hitting story which chronicles the rise to stardom of amateur boxer Leon who is being trained at the rather run down and failing boxing gym belonging to former boxer and alcoholic, Charlie, who is struggling to keep the place running with the help of his daughter, the long suffering, Becky.

Williams pulls no punches, pun totally intended, in his libretto for the play which is peppered with racial slurs, homophobic taunts and language that would not be acceptable in polite company today. As the play is set in the early to mid-1980s it is accurate but nonetheless uncomfortable.

Shem Hamilton is excellent as the naïve, caring Leon who has a natural aptitude for boxing along with his longtime friend, Troy (Christian Alifoe) who is much more confident and streetwise at the start of the play. Wayne Rollins is almost a comedy foil as the lascivious and wayward father of our hero Leon. Liam Smith puts in a not-so-subtle but layered performance as the struggling former boxer, Charlie, who remembers better times gone by as he struggles to keep his gym in business. 

As is often the case, there is a love story intertwined into the narrative when Leon falls for Charlie’s daughter, the rather feisty and intelligent, Becky (Poppy Winter) which causes tensions all round for most of the characters in the piece.

The set designed by Sandra Falase is static and represents Charlie’s gym complete with a boxing ring which doubles as the venues for Leon’s many fights to bring him to the brink of a crack at the world title towards the end of the play. The lighting design (Joshie Hariette) is largely effective but the special in the centre of the boxing ring either needs to be much wider or the actors need to be more accurate about their placement. There was also an odd mover on stage right which when lit just lit up for audience for no apparent reason. The sound design (Duramaney Kamara) was well balanced throughout. 

My special mention this evening goes to the boxing coach, Gary Cooke, because the boxing sequences were very authentic and the actors had clearly been very well rehearsed to bring these sequences to life. The direction by Nathan Powell is gentle and extremely effective allowing the action to flow very well throughout the production. 

Sucker Punch is not an easy watch and it will challenge the conscience of most who see it. It is of its time and needs to be judged as such. The story telling is carefully considered and never feels rushed or slow. It is a story that most people will take something from – especially if you were around in the 80’s and enjoy boxing. 

Sucker Punch by Roy Williams places at The Fire Station, Sunderland until Friday 23rd June. 

– Stephen Stokoe  

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