Monday, 28 January 2019

REVIEW: Gypsy Queen - Moss Side Fire Station Boxing Club, Manchester.

Gypsy Queen, by Rob Ward, has been building on its successful runs at Edinburgh Fringe and is about to go on tour again around England and Wales.

As a one-off event, prior to its opening night of the tour, it was staged in Moss Side Fire Station Boxing Club instead of in a typical theatre space. The entrance to the club room was difficult to find, but we added this to the excitement of attending a performance in an unusual setting. Once inside, we clambered between audience members on gym benches to get to our seats. The venue was warm and – apart from the pop-up bar – was as genuine as a boxing club could be. The authenticity did not seem in any way staged, and it more than likely wasn’t. The entire performance took place in the ring and the action was almost perfectly visible from any part of the audience space. It was exciting before a word was spoken.

Gypsy Queen is a two man play with both actors taking the parts of various characters. Each character had the capacity to be played as a stock character – Irish traveller, Liverpudlian boxer, boxing coach, gay lover etc and indeed there was an element of this in their portrayal. This is not a negative criticism but a technique that allowed each character to be easily identified – this was further helped by the use of simple motifs in the costumes. In time, the actors – Rob Ward (who also wrote the play) and John Askew added levels of depth to these characters in a natural way.

The writer told us at the end of the play that exploring homosexuality in sport is something that was important to him and the team and that they had intended to bring up these issues. Staging it in this boxing club must have made that ring truer. The LGBT community is a natural audience for this play, staging it here made it more accessible to the wider audience. The story moved at a fast pace and was easy to follow while also having a certain complexity.

The simple premise – a less tragic romeo and Juliet story of sorts – touched on a wide variety of elements – self discovery, love, death and loss, rejection and surprise acceptance, religion and faith and choices in life. These all were woven into the tale and superbly crafted by the actors.

The lighting, sound and stage props all worked well. There was a Brechtian thread of the audience being part of this production, and a knowledge from our part that reality is suspended through means of the staging, but more importantly in that our passive participation in this event has an effect on us, and hopefully an effect of positive change. Ward does not try to lecture us, or preach, or indeed does he spend much time on the negativity of homophobia but instead brings us to see the hope and indeed the reward of courage and trust.

This is a beautifully written play, clever and warm at the same time.

Reviewer - Aaron Loughrey
on - 27/1/19

Reviewer – Aaron Loughrey


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