The cast, from left: Thuse Lekwape, Pacharo Mzembe, Sophie Emberson-Bain, Kenneth Ransom, Margi Brown Ash and Gideon Mzembe.
After party photos by Deanne Scott follow the review.
By Future D. Fidel
Directed by Todd MacDonald
Dramaturg Chris Kohn
La Boit/Brisbane Festival production
Season: Sweptember 5-26. :Bookings: 07 3007 8600 or www.laboite.com
As we filed into La Boite’s Roundhouse Theatre the stage was set as the square ring – the boxing arena. Boxers sparred and trained, skipping rope, punching the heavy bag, doing push-ups while being urged on by a thumping sound track and the bellowing voice of trainer Luke, played beautifully by the diminutive Margi Brown Ash.
It was a clever recreation of a day in any amateur boxing gym helped along by great video design from optikal bloc, moody lighting from David Walters and music and sound by Felix Cross.
Among the boxers was Isa played by Pacharo Mzembe. He sparred for a good ten minutes before the story actually began and then he was exchanging realistic punches with his opponents as his tale unfolded. He had turned professional, was nicknamed Steven “the killer” Aliki and become a championship contender. We watched as he fought and his tale of oppression, violence, and hope unfolded.
For Mzembe the action is non-stop and his energy was unflagging. I knew he had been training up for the role – and his rippling shoulder and chest muscles paid tribute to this – but he was amazingly close to professional fitness.
I did a little boxing in my youth and I know how heavy the arms became after just a couple of minutes of defending and jabbing; and how the chest heaved and screamed for air. Mzembe did all that realistic and magnificently choreographed fighting (fight director was Nigel Poulton) for an hour – and managed to deliver his lines without a gasp.
What an amazing performance that was.
Future D. Fidel’s play is fictional but is inspired by his own life, the devastation of his family by the civil war in the Republic of Congo, his flight to Tanzania and his search for his lost sister before finally being accepted as a refugee in Australia.
It is a tale of his and many others fight for life recreated through the boxing ring where Isa’s tale is told between rounds as he fights for acceptance. We saw him in the Congo as a bewildered child when murder and rape surrounded him; as a refugee in neighbouring Tanzania, as a forced fighter being encouraged to rape and kill; being interrogated by the Australian immigration officials and learning to control his anger in the boxing ring.
Helping to tell Isa’s story is an ensemble of top talent with NIDA graduates, film and TV actors from very different backgrounds. From Zimbabwe there was Pacharo and his brother, Gideon who played several roles including, with his equally toned body, Isa’s final ring opponent in the championship fight, as well as a bullying army commander and sibling Moses.
Sophie Emberson-Bain, from the British Virgin Isles played three different roles each completely different and each perfectly played; South African-born Thuse Lekwape, a NIDA graduate making his theatrical debut shone too, particularly as the bloodthirsty soldier.
Kenneth Ransom began his career in the US in the TV series Fame and later played opposite Paul Hogan in Crocodile Dundee. After he moved to Australia he became busy with many state theatre companies and showed his versatility by playing four different roles convincingly.
The show ran for just over an hour and earned rapturous applause at the end.
It was an experimental show that worked for the most part. I, along with many others, did have some problems attuning to the authentic but strong African accents. I am sure the cast is capable of toning them down a little for clarity’s sake.
Meet the champs - Eric Scott with brothers Pacharo anmd Gideon Mzembe
Gideon Mzembe, Sophie Emberson-Bain and Margi Brown Ash
Director Todd MacDonald and writer Future D. Fidel.
Guests Helen Howard and Michael Futcher with Pacharo Mzembe
Listening intently to the speeches.