Hope Theatre Company
Live Theatre, Newcastle
Gypsy Queen is a tale of two boxers, with a third one ever-present but never mentioned.
‘Gorgeous’ George O’Connell is an Irish Traveller (a ‘Pikey’) bare-knuckle boxer and a successful one too, styling himself the ‘Gypsy King’, and Dane ‘The Pain’ Samson, is a rising star in the professional boxing world and the son of a successful boxer, his trainer and owner of the gym. It’s an open secret in the gym that Dane is gay but, because of the prevalence of homophobia in the boxing world, it’s kept very quiet elsewhere. However there’s a reporter sniffing around—and that is worrying.
Dane’s father thinks he’s getting too over-confident and needs to be shaken out of his complacency and so he persuades George O’Connell to try his hand at boxing rather than just ‘scrapping’, hoping that the competition will act as a wake-up call to his son.
Rob Ward, who wrote the piece, is George and John Askew is Dane, and between them they also play all the other parts, male and female, generally very effectively with distinct physical and vocal traits as well as minor costume changes making them immediately recognisable. My one reservation is Askew’s Mrs O’Connell (George’s mother) which I thought tended rather too much towards the drag queen.
The play is made up of a series of short scenes (often containing a change of characters) but Adam Zane’s direction, helped in no small measure by Meriel Pym’s simple but very flexible set, keeps delays to a minimum and maintains the pace so that at no point does the action flag.
It’s a gay rom com, which moves from Gorgeous George’s (homo)sexual awakening through the various problems which confront them as their relationship progresses—which, considering the machismo of the boxing world and the deeply conservative and Catholic nature of the Irish travelling community, are many—to the ending which…
...I’m not going to tell you about because I don’t like spoilers!
And what of the third ever-present but never mentioned and never visible boxer, the elephant in the room? That’s Tyson Fury, of course, who is from an Irish Traveller family and calls himself the ‘Gypsy King’, and who is well-known for his homophobic rant equating homosexuality with paedophilia.
Gypsy Queen is a rom com, certainly, but it is also a polemical, political play with a much more raw edge than Ward’s 2013 Away from Home, which also dealt with homophobia in sport. If I describe it as ‘hard-hitting’, that is not intended as a gratuitous pun on the boxing setting but as an accurate description of a piece of theatre which delivers its message very powerfully.