EDINBURGH 2010: BROADWAY WORLD REVIEWS: Shadow Boxing (C Soco)
Ten minutes into this potent, powerful new play by James Gaddas and lead actor Jonny Collis-Scurll is crouched over a bucket of water, cooling himself off, panting, drenched with sweat. It's as much a testament to Collis-Scurll's wild-eyed, energetic delivery as it is to the fact that the play itself is a workout, physically and emotionally. One minute boxer Eroll Flynn - yes, really - is doing push-ups, the next it's sit-ups, and then he's punching at the air, hands a blur, all whilst delivering a script that's rife with brutal imagery and a rhythm as savage as a slug to the face.
Monologues are hit and miss, and they often fall down for only finding one thing to talk about over the course of fifty minutes, or for neglecting to present layered and interesting characters within convuluted plots. Shadow Boxing is a rare gem, then, a monologue that really gets under the skin of it's subject, presenting a character at odds with himself, with his career and with his family, and a narrative that leaps back and forth, sparring for a fight.
Much has been made about the fact that Shadow Boxing is about a 'gay boxer', and certainly the audience present on the night I attended were treating the fact as if it were a surprise, a twist in the tale. But the play is as much about Flynn's relationship with his father and the shame he feels for his career as a boxer - violent and destructive - as it is about his sexuality, and suggests an exciting new future for LGBT theatre.
Whilst delivering a powerful, Shakespearean performance, Collis-Scurll shines in quiet moments; when Flynn reflects on the effect boxing has had upon his face, for example, examining his broken nose and soft, pummelled forehead in the side of a bucket of ice water, inciting the ancient Greek grandfathers of boxing in a unique take on male vanity. Elsewhere, looking back on his childhood and early sexual encounters - acting against the shadows of the title, putting the punchbag which hangs in the centre of the stage to good use - there's a unique vulnerability to the character, and the actor's flitting between roles, mimicking his would-be 'girlfriend', for example, or his gruff, hyper-masculine trainer, is something to be beheld.
The play becomes increasingly tense as it nears its conclusion - Flynn's final fight - and lesser actors might have buckled under the weight of Gaddas's words. But Collis-Scurl delivers, striking a potent and iconic pose as Flynn scores a victory at great cost. It's compelling stuff, and testament to the great gift of one-man theatre: intense, invigorating and inspiring.