The Sweet Science
Jack Silver, Tim Thomson, Kate Goodfellow and Sally Collett
The new tech companies are often claimed to be ushering in a new era of enlightened work practices with decent wages and conditions. Employees will be more motivated by their bright clean relaxed environment where young people sitting in comfy chairs chat over coffee.
This is a notion that The Sweet Science takes issue with. It does so in part by telling two parallel stories that are located in a boxing gym.
In 1987, the gym still functions as a training gym for boxers under the guidance of Oz (Leon Rock). By 2017, it has been transformed into the workplace of a sharp tech company preparing to launch a new product. Unfortunately, its business practices seem every bit as brutal as the traditional businesses it is supposed to contrast with.
The show continuously switches between the two stories, imagining the same characters in age unchanged living in the two different periods. This was something that confused me for a time.
The most exciting element of the play is the struggle of Ruby (Lizzie Stanton) in '87 to become a boxer. It was a time when women were banned from boxing for the most absurd and insulting reasons.
However, Ruby is angry with a father who broke up with her mother. She also feels betrayed by a friend. The local gym is a place where she feels she can let off some steam and Oz allows her to train for what at that time amounted to illegal underground fights.
Lizzie Stanton is utterly convincing as a woman channelling her rage into competitive boxing. She is taught how to hold herself safe, protecting herself by a defensive position. “When you are in your cage, no one can hurt you.”
It is no easy task in a world where women are still regarded as less important than men.
By 2017, things may look and sound different but even in the modern tech company there is still irritating sexism.
With little consciousness of the implications of their wording, they can say they have “got to get the right guys in,” and without thinking a male employee can ask a female colleague to make the drinks.
However this is 2017, so that particular woman knows how to refuse. It is also a time when a woman manager Ada (Annette Flynn) can run things though she can be as ruthless as any man in destroying colleagues for her own interests.
The heart of the show is Ruby’s drive to break through the barriers preventing women from boxing. The 2017 story is believable but never really explains Ada’s motivation.
The play is entertaining and well performed. The ideas it explores are important and engaging but the show does feel like two different plays that are not particularly connected and are both in need of greater space to develop.
Reviewer: Keith Mckenna