Sunday, 28 May 2017

REVIEW: Tom Molineaux at Jack Studio Theatre

Born a slave in Virginia, Tom Molineaux earned his freedom with his successes as a bare-knuckle boxer. Unbeaten, he moved to England in 1810, eager to face Tom Cribb, the undisputed champion who had been forced to retire through lack of suitable opponents. But, when the two finally met in the ring, Molineaux had to fight two adversaries: the strong Cribb and the hostility of a country where boxing was considered a national sport.

Tom Green based his play on a real story and weaved the drama around the ill-fated friendship between Molineaux (Nathan Medina) and Irish prize-fight reporter Pierce Egan (Brendan O'Rourke). The plot is intense and touches serious topics like racial discrimination, depression and substance abuse but, ultimately, falls short of fulfilling its dramatic potential.

Kate Bannister's direction is unimaginative and intoxicated by an abundance of repetitive yet insignificant gestures. For example, the two actors keep taking off their shirts and putting them on again a minute later, without a real purpose. Despite the suspense that builds naturally during the matches, Tom Molineaux is lifeless and resembles more of a bedtime story than a fiery tale of blood, sweat and tears. Furthermore, the inserted projections with video interviews of current boxers affect the pace of the play and, as anyone unfamiliar with the sport, the lack of subtitles to identify the speakers and the poor audio quality left me quite confused.

In the title role, Nathan Medina lacks verve and his remarkable physical suitability is not matched by the essential charisma entailed by the character. His attempt to be aloof make him look dull and devoid of strong feelings. Brendan O'Rourke's delivery is aseptic and both performances are arguably spoiled by a direction that doesn't give the right importance to body language.

The Georgian costumes are faithful and beautiful to see, despite the poorly concealed colourful underwear of Brendan O'Rourke. Francis Alston's set design is neat and functional. A rope marks the square of a boxing ring, and the space occasionally becomes the changing room or one of the taverns where the two friends spend their evenings. Thanks to a wooden screen placed by the back wall, the actors can be out of view without leaving the stage, to the benefit of the narrative flow. The
lighting is discreet and not particularly relevant for the performance.

Tom Molineaux is an interesting play that sheds a light on the history of boxing and praises the huge progress attained by the black community in the last two hundred years. However, this Jack Studio Theatre production doesn't focus enough on its relevant features and fails to highlight its inspiring and engaging character.

Review by Marianna Meloni

Rating: ★★★
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