Gypsy Queen

Rob Ward

Hope Theatre Company

Assembly Rooms

From 03 August 2017 to 26 August 2017

Rating: ****

Review by David Chadderton

After catching the attention of the Manchester Theatre Awards panel with his co-written solo piece Away From Home, about the difficulties of being a working class gay football fan, Rob Ward has run with the theme of homosexuality in sport, especially in "traditional" communities, with this gay love story set in the world of boxing.

Dane "The Pain" Samson (Ryan Clayton) is the top boxer in his father's gym, living up to his nickname with his arrogant attitude. He is also gay; this is known to his father and to others in the gym but kept secret from outsiders, especially journalist Paul Taylor (possibly a dig at a well-known theatre critic?) who has been sniffing around for a scandal.

As Dane's father is starting to lose patience with his know-all son, a new boy joins the gym, "Gorgeous" George O'Connell (Rob Ward), a keen bare-knuckle fighter from the Irish traveller community (or "Pikey" as Samson calls him). Then we get the typical romantic comedy trope of hate-at-first-sight turning into passion but with boxers, resulting in George's first gay experience.

There's a funny scene in which Dane has to teach George that being gay isn't all about constant sex, but this relationship begins to have a much wider effect when rumours start to spread. George is shunned by his own family, and then there is a battle in the press as Dane tries to speak out for others in his situation whereas George falls back on the religious arguments for why homosexuality is an abomination.

They are reconciled, but it is too late as by this time there has been an incident from which there is no going back.

It's a powerful little piece that certainly gets its point across with a believable story on a simple yet effective set from designer Meriel Pym of a changing room bench and row of clothes hooks. I did find the opening section needed some concentration as we were introduced to a lot of characters played by the same two actors in a short time, and perhaps some of the changes of scene could have been quicker to keep up the pace, but once it got going the storytelling from director Adam Zane was very clear.

While we think that we live in more enlightened times and especially that Edinburgh theatre audiences are particularly tolerant, at the performance I attended, there was a man sat right in the middle of the cramped theatre who trampled over half of the audience in his haste to get out as soon as the first gay kiss was seen. The lesson from that is if you do have a problem with tolerance, do your research or at least sit near the door.

But for those who aren't offended by a tragic same-sex love story (with some male nudity), it's well worth a look.