Belvoir’s first main stage production, Prize Fighter, is a violent, explosive and utterly watchable work of theatre.
The show starts with a bang, as two sweaty actors in a boxing ring begin pummelling each other with their fists in the ring. The fight director, Nigel Poulton, has pulled out all stops to make such fights fist-achingly believable.
Prize Fighter is about Isa (Pacharo Mzembo) a refugee from the Congo, who trains to be a competitive boxer. Haunted by a traumatic past and forced to become a child soldier age ten, memories of his old life repeatedly resurface throughout the show.
In this fast paced no-intermission work, director Todd Macdonald artfully uses tableau to weave between Isa’s training regime, and flashbacks to his gory past. Energetic neon lighting design by David Walters heightens this non-realism of the piece. The set, a simple boxing ring in the middle of the upstairs Belvoir theatre, is basic enough that the narrative can jump between these two worlds easily. The fast pace means there’s no costume or set changes, however the talented cast convey character changes with their physicality and change in accents.
Pacharo Mzembo as Isa is a compelling, utterly commited force. He puts his heart and soul into this role, and is always watchable. Gideon Mzambe is a formidable performer, becoming both a friendly brother and a powerful war lord with ease. Zindzi Okenyo’s desperate sister, and Thuso Lekwape’s youthful yet menacing child soldier both deserve a mention for their powerful supporting roles.
Future B. Fidel’s play, inspired by his own childhood as a Congolese refugee, is powerful, compelling and affecting. It’s almost sold out, but if you can, you should beg, borrow or buy a ticket to this incredible production.