To the Royal Court for the matinee of Sucker Punch the new play by ever engaging Roy Williams. Set in a North London boxing gym in the eighties the play charts the training and progress of two black teenagers who Leon and Troy as they rise from wasters to world champions. Eventually fighting each other in a high profile winner takes all bout. The structure allows Williams a clever metaphor with which to look at the progress of black political consciousness throughout the decade (the Brixton riots, Broadwater farm and attitudes to mixed race relationships are all a glove touch away); whilst also giving a reflection on the rise of the Black British athletes and the role sport played in legitimising the acceptance of second and third generation immigrants as British citizens.
Of course it wouldn't be Williams if this journey wasn't analysed and the motives of both Leon and Troy are regularly checked. Leon rises to the top by following to the letter the advice of his white trainer Charlie Maggs - even down to giving up Becky, Charlie's teenage daughter, as a condition to staying part of the gym. Meanwhile Troy thinks he can escape the power trips and compromising deals by heading to the States, only to find himself completely at the mercy of Ray, his intimidating, jive talking, promoter who sees his protege as a cash cow rather than an iconic fighter and role model. Williams is clear that financial imperative rather than a desire for acceptance and equality drove the championing of black sportsmen and women in the Thatcher years and wonders whether a real debate was side lined in the process. Autonomy remained an illusion.
Sucker Punch is packed with ideas all supported by an excellent production, set within the atmospheric confines of the ring. A particular word for the fight choreography by Leon Baugh who mixed genuine parries and jabs with with moments of James Brown footwork, varying the speed of the action from slow motion to hyper reality with fluid brilliance.
Nobody is questioning the past and future of the black British experience with as much imagination and punch as Williams. It's important and intelligent work aimed at politicising the audience by providing a flavour and critique of hard fought former battles.