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Nicola Wright

Review : The Sweet Science Of Bruising at Southwark Playhouse

Based on historical fact and set in London in 1869 Joy Wilkinson's THE SWEET SCIENCE OF BRUISING is a play about the struggles and constraints of being a woman in Victorian England, and how the four protagonists find freedom in the underground world of female boxing.

Fiona Skinner in The Sweet Science of BruisingFiona Skinner in "The Sweet Science of Bruising"

Each of the women have stories to tell and all have a point to prove or a struggle to endure against the men in their lives. Polly, the only one of the four whose ambition is to fight, ‘I was born from violence’, is spotted by Professor Charlie Sharp (Bruce Alexander) sparring with Paul Stokes whom she calls her brother. He invites them to London and with both having aspirations to become world champion, an exhibition match is made between them, with Paul as the pre-determined winner. An accidental surprise knock-out leaves Polly needing another opponent and so the search begins for a suitable female contender.

The boxing sequences are skilfully choreographed by Alison De Burgh and thanks to the background stories of the four women, who are all desperate to be 'Female Champion Of The World', the audience finds themselves willing each of them to win. Violet Hunter (Sophie Bleasdale) a nurse who needs the money to train as a Doctor, Matilda Blackwell (Jessica Regan) a London prostitute, bright but without a man to support her, therefore destined for a life on the street, and Anna Lamb (Kemi-Bo Jacobs) a tragically abused wife in a household terrorised by the gentleman of the house Lord Cavendish. Anna does not need the money for her freedom as the other women do, but she needs the fighting skills to survive the life she endures.

The simple set design by Anna Reid and lighting by Tim Deiling draws us into the seedy world of underground boxing, and director Kirsty Patrick Ward brings out the best of the ensemble cast. Fiona Skinner is a ball of fire and energy and is totally engaging as Polly Stokes, in contrast Kemi -Bo Jacobs' vulnerable portrayal of Anna is quite mesmerizing.

Ultimately this is a play about the empowerment of women and many of the struggles they faced are issues that women are battling to this day. The male characters only want women to serve their own gain, but these women are strong and powerful and as a result the audience is happy for them all to be crowned 'Female Champions Of The World' .