THE SWEET SCIENCE OF BRUISING | London, Wilton’s Music Hall

Troupe’s critically acclaimed hit has transferred from a smash hit run at the Southwark Playhouse to its absolute ideal venue, in East London’s beloved burnt-out Victorian music hall. Set in and around an Islington boxing club in 1869, writer Joy Wilkinson toys with the “bruising” of the professional boxing ring and of domestic violence. With themes of female genital mutilation and murder, this is not a show for the faint-hearted.

At the play’s core is a quartet of would-be female boxers: a wannabe doctor (Celeste Dodwell), a working-class pugilist (Fiona Skinner), a prostitute (Jessica Regan), and an upper-class housewife (Emma McDonald), all of whom give gripping, energised performances. Seeing how their complex lives each result in their pursuing the arena of professional boxing is endlessly surprising and unpredictable.

Special mention must also go to Wilf Scolding as Gabriel Lamb, the epitome of the upper-class villain, embodying the conservative, patriarchal attitudes that the women of this play rail against so hardily. Scolding brings chilling realism and subtlety to the role that brings extra depth to the whole piece. Star Jane How is electric in a cameo as selfish, charismatic Aunt George, our only link to the older, pre-Victorian generation.

Fight choreography (Alison de Burgh) is handled well, and a mix of pre-recorded original and borrowed music (Max Perryment) contributes a great deal to grounding and intensifying the action. The wilted grandeur of Wilton’s Music Hall, uplit and peeling at the walls, fully immerses us in the shady world of female Victorian boxing.

The ladies shall continue their bruising until 29 June 2019.

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