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THEATRE: 09 JANUARY 2017

By JOHN ROZENTALS

Prize Fighter, by Future D Fidel | Directed by Todd MacDonald

La Boite Theatre Company & Belvoir (http://belvoir.com.au) | Belvoir Upstairs, Surry Hills, Sydney | Until 22 January

Firstly, congratulations to Nigel Poulton, Prize Fighter’s Movement and Fight Director, for having coached such a realistic sequence of boxing scenarios that it is hard to imagine Pacharo Mzembe and variously Gideon Mzambe or Kenneth Ransom not actually doing each some serious damage as they slug it out in the ring that Belvoir Upstairs has become.

The fight sequences are as realistic as you’re going to get without actual contact.

Secondly, congratulations to Bill Laycock (Set & Costume Designer), Felix Cross (Composer & Sound Designer) and David Walters (Lighting Designer) for having so successfully transformed the Belvoir Upstairs stage into a boxing ring so realistic that the audience actually reels with the punches and feels the sprays of perspiration hitting their faces.

Thirdly, congratulations to Director Todd MacDonald and the entire cast for taking Future D Fidel’s excellent script and turning it into just over an hour’s provocative and evocative reality that has us both ringside in Australia and confronting the barbarism of life in the Congo.

Fidel writes from the perspective of personal experience. He fled the brutality of the Congo, his mother was one of the hoards of innocents murdered there, and he spent eight years in a refugee camp before eventual resettlement in Australia.

Pacharo Mzambe is excellent as Isa, the young Congolese fighting for the Australian light-heavyweight title — and, probably more importantly, battling the demons from his turgid past.

Fidel’s and MacDonald’s construct of interrupting the boxing sequences with flashbacks and insights into Isa’s mental anguish is nothing short of brilliant.

I wasn’t going to single out any of the other cast members — Margi Brown-Ash, Thuso Lekwape, Gideon Mzembe, Zindzi Okenyo or Kenneth Ransom — for individual attention because they were all so good and so obviously happy and confident in each other’s company, but in the end I couldn’t help myself.

Brown-Ash turns in such a spectacular performance as Luke, Isa’s trainer, that she simply begs for recognition way beyond the call of duty.

This is theatre that demands attention, right from when the audience files into the theatre to be greeted by a mesmerising gymnasium warm-up from an obviously super-fit cast living out their roles.

Above: Pacharo Mzembe, Gideon Mzambe and Kenneth Ransom. All images: Brett Boardman.

Margie Brown-Ash and Pacharo Mzembe.

Gideon Mzembe.