BWW Reviews: I'M YOUR MAN is a Knockout

Reviewed Wednesday 7th August 2013

Vitalstatistix Theatre Company, with Mobile States, is presenting a Belvoir production, created by Roslyn Oades, that takes the audience into the world of boxing. I'm Your Man is a production drawing on recordings made by Oades over an eighteen months period while she followed a young boxer from Bankstown, Billy "The Kid" Dib, as he prepared himself for the world featherweight title fight. Her recordings included other boxers that they met along the way, including Jeff Fenech and Anthony Mundine, boxing trainers, and others associated with boxing.

From these tapes a few monologues have been selected, and these are played to the performers using wireless headphones. They repeat what they hear verbatim, including every stutter, repeated words or parts thereof, and copying the accents and rhythms of speech. This means that the audience hears almost exactly what the original speaker said, as they said it. This is the third work in a trilogy by Oades that uses this technique.

These eighteen months are condensed into seventy minutes, alternating between text and physical activity, and it is not a poor simulation, but genuine training. There is nothing fake in the physical side of this performance. Well-defined muscles on each of the performers suggests that they'd be quite capable of going a few rounds with anybody, and attests to the amount of effort put into the preparation for the physical side of this production.

The performance begins with the five artists training in the gymnasium, where a variety of equipment is set up, including mirrors so that the boxers can watch themselves and correct errors in their fighting technique. There are photos and articles about boxers on the wall, along with positive messages. Four are boxers, and the other is clearly the trainer from his air of authority and the respect that the other four show him. One of the four is a woman, which reminds us that boxing, like many sports, is no longer restricted to men.

Billy McPherson is the trainer and was, at one time, an amateur boxer and trainer, before turning to the performing arts. The casting is perfect. His demeanour and attitude scream authenticity. He really does become the owner of this gym and the trainer of these boxers. I repeat, there is nothing fake about the physical side, and for that matter the performance side. One could look in through the window of a boxing gym anywhere and see much the same thing happening. McPherson portrays "Wait-a-while" Wally Carr, a boxer who fought in all weights from super bantamweight to heavyweight.

What we get, though, that is different to watching boxers train, are the insights into their thinking, their motivation, their reasons for becoming boxers, and where they get the drive to aim for a world title. This production gives us access to the lives and minds of the boxers themselves.

Michael Mohammed Ahmad portrays the aspiring champion, Billy 'The Kid' Dib. Katia Molino takes on the mystery character, CJ, a failed boxer who Oades met in London, but about whom almost nothing is known. She also portrays Dave Aloua, a not too bright New Zealander. Justin Rosniak presents his characterisation of Fenech who, one must admit, is rather a living caricature himself, a great fighter, but an intellectual feather weight. He also plays referee and commentator, Gus Mercurio. Finally there is John Shrimpton, who portrays Mundine, and the African immigrant, Wale "Lucky Boy" Omotoso.

What we see are a collection of superb characterisations from each of the performers, each monologue adding other facets to the picture being drawn of boxers; why they do what they do, how they approach the sport, how they see themselves, and some personal discoveries. There is humour and pathos, poignant moments, some sadness, and we gain an understanding of the drive and dedication needed to maintain the level of exercise and training needed to succeed. It is not necessary to love boxing, or even to know much about the sport or the competitors, to be able enjoy this production. It is a fascinating and polished piece of theatre. It is well worth going a few rounds with these five titlists.

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From This Author Barry Lenny

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