The Bush Theatre's Royale is an Exhilarating Event

Penny Flood applauds the emotionally charged story of an ambitious young boxer

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In this exciting and surprising new work by Marco Ramirez, it's not just the story that matters, it's also the way it’s told.

Inspired by the real life story of black boxer Jack Johnson, it’s about a young man called Jay Jackson who wants to prove himself by fighting and beating a white boxer, but this is America in the early twentieth century and successful black men aren't welcome, especially in the dangerous world of boxing.

If Jay beats a white man there will repercussions, but if he doesn't rise to the challenge he's letting the white racists win.

Jay wins and there are repercussions.

Jay wins and there are repercussions.

For this the Bush has been transformed into a boxing ring with a bare wooden platform in the centre, misty with rising chalk dust. All the action, including a press conference, takes place on or around this stage.

The witty, sharply observed script, funny, sad, tragic and touching in turns, is written in a kind of blank verse so there’s a rhythm which is picked up by a series of foot stomps, claps, and shouts of oohs and aahs from the cast, interspersed with instructions to breathe. It’s got an infectious beat. As the action and tension heat up so do the claps and stomps and the shouts. Sometimes there’s more than one thing going on and the effect is almost dreamlike...

However, there’s more to Jay than his fabulous physique, knockout punches and fierce ambition, he’s got a soft side. There’s family history, and all is revealed as we learn something startling about Jay’s family background. This gives the story a new edge which, with the background of increasingly frenzied series of claps and stomps, builds to a great, emotionally charged crescendo.

The smashing cast are Nicholas Pinnock as Jay; Gershwyn Eustache Jnr as young wannabe boxer Fish; Clint Dyer as Jay’s trainer Wynton; Ewan Stewart as promoter and commentator Max; and Frances Ashman as Jay’s sister and conscience Nina.

Choreography is by Lucie Pankhurst who trained at the London School of Contemporary Dance so there are lots of elegant and cool moves, especially in the fight scenes. Flawless direction by Madani Younis, the artistic director of The Bush, brings it all together into one exhilarating event.

Royale is on until April 18 at the Bush

The Royale is on until April 18 at the Bush, at 7 Uxbridge Road, nightly at 7.30pm with matinees on Wednesday and Saturday, a caption performance on March 27 and an audio described performance on April 11 at 2.30pm.

On April 1, there will be a BushGreen Live Debate: Can the modern sports hero inspire new views on racial and social injustices? The debate will follow the evening performance, with entry free to ticket holders.

Book tickets online or call the box office on 0208 743 5050.

March 25, 2015