I’ve often thought that boxing would be a good subject for a meaty drama and so it proves with this engrossing and thought-provoking one act play by Mikey Burnett and Joseph McCann. Stuart is a talented young boxer, trained by his brother Teddy, who gets a shot at World Title glory in Las Vegas. But as his success grows he is confronted by a tragic occurrence that almost puts paid to his career – how does he deal with it?
It’s a play about ambition and integrity, and the precarious balance that can exist between the two. It’s also an examination of the sport of boxing, and how it almost uniquely combines (if you look at it from extreme points of view) both barbarism and nobility. There’s risk in all sports of course, just as there is in almost everything we do on a daily basis. But the risks involved with boxing are more acute than in most activities. Personally, I’m a great admirer of the sport and view it as a force for good. But the content of the play cannot but unsettle even the most ardent boxing fan. As you follow Stuart through his confidence, his shock, his self-doubt and his self-loathing, you never really know which way he’s going to turn at the end. And the end is a real cliffhanger – I was itching to discover what actually happened next in the story. But then I realised that the tale of Stuart’s boxing prowess was actually a different play, and that Lace Up is specifically concerned with the repercussions of accidentally causing another man’s death.
The three-man cast are excellent throughout. Daniel Campbell is very impressive as Stuart and he certainly convinced me he is a natural boxer! Preparing for a bout and in the ring, his face showed the sheer determination of the supreme sportsmen, focussed and fixed on the job. Outside that environment, the contrast with the devastated Stuart coming to terms with what he has done is extremely moving. Patrick Wallace as Teddy successfully conveys both the anxiety of the coach trying to keep his protégé on message and also the irritation of the individual who finds themselves in a teaching role when really they should be doing it themselves. The two make a terrific partnership, although I must confess, Sassenach as I am, I didn’t understand every word they said with their strong Scottish accents – but certainly enough to follow the plot! The third member of the cast is James Garvock, who captures perfectly the ruthless, hardnosed condescension of the American promoter, compared with whom Stuart and Teddy are mere innocents abroad; and he convincingly conveys the pathetic aggression of Stuart and Teddy’s father. Three young actors definitely to keep an eye on!