The Royale

Published March 19, 2015

What’s it all about?

This is the UK premiere of Marco Ramirez’s thrilling turn of the 20th century boxing drama inspired by Jack Johnson, a little known sporting hero and former heavyweight champion of the world.

Anyone thinking ‘I have no interest in boxing. Next!’ wait just one second. Full disclaimer: I hate boxing. I cannot physically bear to watch it and before last night I didn’t get why anyone would want to witness two people beating each other up. While I’m probably not going to be booking any ringside tickets soon, The Royale kept me gripped through every right hook, pivot and left jab.

In Ramirez’s play the great 207lb six foot two boxer becomes Jay ‘The Sport’ Jackson, a man whose career is stalling against a backdrop of segregation. So when a promoter manages to convince the reigning white heavyweight champion to fight against him, everything looks like it will change. But with racial tensions running high outside the ring, his decision to go through with the historic fight puts more than just the weight of a punch on his shoulders.

Who’s in it?

Forget heavyweight boxer, Nicholas Pinnock proves himself to be a heavyweight performer in a staggering turn as the determined Jay. His phenomenal presence captures all the physical power and pure grace of a great sportsman, while he delivers Ramirez’s fast paced script with compelling charisma bar a few moments of vulnerability that are devastating to witness.

Excellent support comes from a hugely likeable Gershwyn Eustache Jnr as his green sparring partner Fish, a witty Clint Dyer as his no nonsense trainer, Ewan Stewart as a Monopoly man lookalike promoter and Frances Ashman as Jay’s sister Nina, as emotionally tough as he is physically.

What should I look out for?

The combination of Madani Younis’ intense direction, Lucie Pankhurst’s flawless and often hypnotically beautiful choreography combined with Ramirez’s prescriptive stage notes. Instead of the sound of fists hitting skin, the cast clap. Rather than the crash of a body falling to the floor, chairs are slammed on the wooden ring the audience surround on all sides. It’s stunningly effective.

In a nutshell?

Go six rounds at the Bush Theatre and witness Nicholas Pinnock’s thrilling performance in Madani Younis’ hypnotic triumph.    

Will I like it?

If you’re one of the many recently wowed by the Olivier Award nominated A View From The Bridge, I would hazard a guess you will love Younis’ production. For me it captured a similar intensity and with its sparse, dusky lit staging, it was atmospheric in that way where you can completely lose yourself.  There may be no actual blows in this production, but it still packs a hefty punch.

The Royale is playing until 18 April. You can book tickets through the Bush Theatre website.