Directed by Todd Macdonald
Belvoir St Theatre
18 & 25 Belvoir Street, Surry Hills
Season: 6 – 22 January
There has been a buzz about this show milling around for a while now, and that always makes me nervous. Hype increases expectations and too often leads to disappointment. I entered the theatre and you could still feel it. The actors were all GO from the beginning, music pumping and expectant chatter rippling through the audience. You could feel there was something special. The performance space is dominated by a vast boxing ring - for training, and fighting to win. Steve "The Killer" Alaki is training to be the best in Australia. But Steve's real name is actually Isa and vivid flashbacks are revealing of his past life experiences growing up in the Congo. This is high stake.
Future D. Fidel's play is hugely demanding on its actors and Todd Macdonald's direction doesn't let up from the pressure. Requiring remarkable physical fitness, acute focus and immense agility - this is a fortified ensemble that doesn't miss a beat. The boxing is ferocious and is quite a stunning surprise in a live performance space. The thrill of the actors in the ring radiates into the audience, in the moment with them through every punch. Led by Pacharo Mzembe as Isa, the cast set an impeccably high standard from the start and don't take their foot off the pedal. Mzembe gives a powerful performance as Isa, managing to show the brutality of the situation without alienating the audience from the character himself. Zindzi Okenyo gives wonderful performances as Isa's sister and later, his girlfriend, portraying the different characters with skill. She achieves great poignancy in the roles and exhibits her apt versatility as an actor. Thuso Lekwape is captivating as Tim and particularly as Kadogo. The notion of a child soldier is a difficult one to grasp for many of us, unable to conceive how a young child could be manipulated to exact such horror. Lekwape shows flashes of an abhorrent murderer and playful childlike demeanour within seconds, it is chilling.
The decision for the actors to carry 2D representations of guns, as opposed to 3D imitations, is telling. While gun violence may not be spiralling out of control in Australia as it is in other nations, popular culture coexists with an oversaturation of violence for frivolous entertainment. For other people, including people forced to seek asylum, gun violence is a far more palpable reality. It requires a second thought.
Prize Fighter doesn’t depict perfect people – they don’t exist. We see complex characters on stage with hopes, fears and dreams, and are able to observe their confliction and struggle in nightmarishly dire circumstances. The humanising force of theatre is so powerful, and it is the stories of refugees that crucially need to be told to counteract the incessant demonisation that strikes them by a society who is needlessly afraid. To listen, to be affected, to better understand…this is what Prize Fighter brilliantly allows its audience to do.