As you enter The Tabernacle (current home of the Bush Theatres’s 2015 revival ‘The Royale’) there is no question as to the era. Beer bottles, dirt and flyers litter the ground of a hazy smoke filled boxing arena in the centre the room. Low hanging factory lights enhance the shadows whilst a blues record echoes all around, creating an atmosphere you could practically taste.
Two dings signified the beginning of round one and we follow the career of ‘Jay’ (Nicholas Pinnock), a black boxing champion in 1905 as he obsesses with becoming a champion who isn’t classified by the colour of his skin, but by his aptitude in the sport itself. Inspired by the life of Jack Johnson, one of the most famous black men on earth at one point, we see ‘Jay’ take on his biggest opponent, gaining everything as well as losing it all in his reach for the title of world champion.
The text is exceptional, with every word having a deeper link than what appears on the surface, Marco Ramirezs’ play is dripping in grit and truth. This teamed with brilliant performances from the entirety of the cast makes for an exciting evening.
Nicholas Pinnock presented a playful and deeply pained ‘Jay’, portraying both humour and sadness with a firm base in truth.
Madani Younis’ direction is resplendent and thoughtful making fantastic use of the space. All too often when a show is played in the round it runs the risk of becoming over presented and amateur, however Younis manages to create a rather private feeling, as though we as an audience are encroaching on the characters most intimate moments. When paired with Lucie Pankhursts’ highly stylised and intricate movement, something very special is made. I will say that at points the pace seemed to halt somewhat making some scenes seem extremely long and without resolution.
Aside from this, it’s a highly thought provoking night of entertainment that echoes of times I truly hope are far behind us. Excellent set, some brilliant performances and a venue that’s truly evocative of the play are just some reasons to see this production.
Reviewed by Jimmy Richards
Photo: Helen Murray
THE ROYALE plays at The Tabernacle until 26 November 2016