Until You Hear That Bell

Sean Mahoney
Summerhall
to

The Anatomy Lecture Theatre at Summerhall looks like something you'd see in an engraving in a book about nineteenth-century science education, with the observers sitting in high wooden galleries, steeply raked, looking down on, presumably, something (or some body) being dissected.

What is being dissected here—in, remarkably, Sean Mahoney's first solo show—is the training of a young boxer from the first time he entered a gym, amazed at seeing people hitting one another with no one trying to stop them. Young Sean moves quickly from sparring with his little sister and being trained by his dad to having proper trainers, winning fights and hearing talk of turning pro.

If you're impressed by the level of detail and authenticity in the descriptions of boxing and training—not to mention his skill with a skipping rope—it all makes sense when he presses play on a small TV and video in the corner to show a bout between two boys in the ring, one of them clearly him when he was younger.

A device he uses for most of the play—both a physical device and a dramatic one—is a 4-minute boxing timer, which buzzes loudly at both the three and four minute marks. For each section, he talks about his boxing training and fighting for three minutes, then about his family and personal life outside boxing for the rest minute. This is an interesting idea that works reasonably well mostly but occasionally gets in the way when the scenes don't exactly run to time.

Things change when a fight that everyone said he should have won is handed to his opponent and he also receives a load of D grades in his GCSEs and is sent to the "BTEC table", opting to do drama. The play goes up to where he starts to perform in front of an audience, not quite taking us to the door of Summerhall and this performance.

It is a remarkably compelling performance of great subtlety. He gets across the essence of a wide-eyed, innocent young child at the start without ever falling victim to the adults-playing-children over-the-top voice and gestures and appears to age before our eyes quite convincingly. It also contains a great deal of humour, which is both well-written and well-executed.

Fans of boxing will recognise the references and the terminology, but this is a compellingly told coming-of-age tale that happens to be in the world of amateur boxing but should appeal to anyone.

David Chadderton