Shadow Boxing

James Gaddas
Daniel Newton
Assembly George Square Studios

Shadow Boxing

A heavy black bag, downstage right, some furniture and worn boxing gloves that sit just above the bag are visible upon our entrance. From the back enters Daniel Newton, suited and out of kilter with the surroundings. It is not long before we get to see why his appearance is far from incongruous, though his story illustrates perfectly why he may not fit within such a macho structure.

Newton dances with the bag, circles it, puts on the gloves and tells us of his childhood and boxing past. This is a fantastic piece of solo work. With the right number of feints and tell-tale punches, the hook, the cross, the uppercut, Newton physically becomes the man. That man has clearly danced like a Lomachenko did, boxed like a contender once has and then faded like they all do.

In the city of Ken Buchanan, who made the ultimate fade this year, it is heartening to see the detail of that physicality rather than some cod attempt to make it look like a pugilist. That it adds authenticity to the story is comforting, and that the story is not some form of cliché out of Boxing News is yet another reason to be comforted. There is a melancholy in the character that comes across right from the entrance. It is a man who wants to be there but is unsure of his place there. Newton inhabits that character with ease and an ill-at-ease persona which suggests what is to come without screaming it. Subtlety in a boxing gym is often the last thing you expect—or recognise.

The script is alive with what every young man of a certain age with a father who fought will have suffered. The expectation and the desire along with the untamed brutal obstacles faced by macho men is slowly revealed and expertly delivered. Newton has made the stage his own and manages to pace his story, interspersed with exceptional craft in his movement: it is the brutality in his descriptions which underscores the brutality of his environment. This has the hallmarks of either knowledge or research. The authenticity of the piece is part of its strength.

Mdu Kweyama’s direction further works to highlight and then fade the many questions which arise. The one which comes at you from some distance is the revelation of homosexuality, however it is deftly handled. The demise which follows such a revelation and the uncovering is as important today as the time in which this is set. The lightweight southpaw Orlando Cruz remains the only male gay boxer of note internationally, so the falling from contention hits exactly the right notes here.

But no matter how authentic or how many notes are hit for people who have an interest in boxing, and ought to be challenged by the lack of visible inclusivity, the greatest strength here is the blend of writing, directing, and performing. It is a perfect match of skill, craft and guile which makes it a compelling watch.

Reviewer: Donald C Stewart

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