Royal Court Theatre in Sloane Square is undergoing somewhat of a renovation. Having developed a reputation for producing some of the best new work in London the award winning venue is gearing up to produce Roy Williams latest play Sucker Punch, which will involve a major reconstruction with the main Jerwood Theatre stage being transformed into a boxing arena, complete with ring side seating and an additional circle level. Set in the 1980’s the drama examines what life was like to be young and Black and asks if the right fights have been fought – let alone won.
‘It’s mainly about two young black friends’, says young actor Anthony Welsh who plays one of the main boxers, Troy Augusts. ‘They grow up in the 80’s and are trying to find who they are with all the racial tensions that was going on at the time’. This is Anthony’s third theatre role after graduating from the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (or LAMDA) in 2008 and then going on to star in the internationally successful and award-winning production The Brothers Size. He has also graced the small screen and played the recurring character Devon in ITV’s The Bill.
Also starring as a boxer is British actor Jason Maza who is most well known for his role in 2009 British film Shifty. ‘For me, it’s about what is was like to be a young black guy growing up in the 80’s,’ explains the friendly East End lad, ‘and what people’s attitudes were in the 80’s towards black people, using boxing as a platform to do that.’ Jason is also no stranger to television and has been featured in episodes of Holby City, Casualty and A Touch of Frost.
Sucker Punch is a Royal Court debut for both actors and each were particularly excited at the prospect of performing at the Jerwood Theatre Downstairs. ‘Royal Court is one of my favourite theatres – always has been. It’s a place that I really wanted to work at,’ reveals Anthony. ‘Funnily enough my first two plays that I did out of drama school were cast by Amy Ball [Royal Court resident casting director] so she knew about me from before and when this opportunity came up I leapt at it!’ Jason sentiments about the theatre were pretty much the same and he is also looking forward to performing on the same stage as the likes of Daniel Craig, Andy Serkis and Michael Gambon. ‘My sister says I only say this because I’m here, but it is my favourite theatre to work at and go and see stuff at’, he remarks happily. ‘I’ve always wanted to work here; it’s been one of my goals so I’m over the moon.’
While the play focuses on the racial tensions of the 1980’s, both actors couldn’t be more aware that while things have undoubtedly gotten better for black people and other ethnic minorities in this country it is an ongoing battle, ‘I think we still deal with the tension now but it has a different face, it’s more subtle,’ describes Anthony. ‘If you called someone the N-word or any of the derogatory terms that are used against black people, [back then] it was just accepted. Now that doesn’t happen and depending on what city you live in there would be an uproar about it, but it doesn’t meant to say that in today’s times these things are still being said behind closed doors.’ ‘I am extremely lucky to be brought up in around different people,’ finishes off Jason, ‘but there is still an undercurrent of racism. I was born in east London but now live in Essex and some of the older generation still have their racist views….Things have improved but they still is racism about, it just might not be as overt.’
To be convincing as boxers both actors were put under a punishing regime and taken under the wing of European champion and former captain of the England boxing team, Errol Christie. ‘It’s funny, because I thought I was in shape before the audition,’ laughs Anthony. ‘The second audition I did was with Errol and he put me on the cross trainer for about 10 minutes…and I was mess – I remember thinking to myself I might faint!’ ‘It was great to get in shape, but obviously the level of discipline required was phenomenal,’ interjects Jason. ‘The training was not so bad…but it was more so the diet – you had to be so disciplined. But if was definitely worth it; we all felt so fit and hopefully we’ll look alright when we get up there on the stage.’
Sucker Punch promises to deliver both thought provoking drama and a spectacular visual show that is sure to delight both new and regular theatre goers, ‘it’s got a great team behind it. The Royal Court don’t mess about and it’s got a great director, Sacha Wares,’ comments Anthony. ‘She’s very particular about the plays she chooses and she picks them for great reasons.’ ‘I genuinely think it’s going to be a completely different theatre experience; boxing plays have been done before but it hasn’t been done like this,’ clarifies Jason. ‘They have completely transformed the Royal Court and it feels like a boxing arena…it’s the biggest budget they have ever spent at the Royal Court and whether you like theatre or not, you are going to enjoy the spectacle of the piece.’
Sucker Punch opens at The Royal Court Theatre from the 20th June 2010 but will be in previews between 11th – 17th June. To book tickets or for more information please see www.royalcourttheatre.com
Words by Karla Williams