“Beggars can’t be choosers – as soon as they become choosers they’re beggars again,” the silver-tongued Arden tells his boxing protégé Rick Skinner. Unfortunately, following this advice sets family man and reluctant fighter Skinner off on a journey that leads him to systematically destroy his body, principals and the lives of those he loves. There is a fine line between hitting hard enough and facing a life behind bars in the illegal world of bare-knuckle fighting and, as Skinner “the killer” finds out, the taste of blood can prove surprisingly addictive.
In this play, written, directed and choreographed by Renny Krupinski, a world dripping with testosterone is brought home with the punch, slap and crack of an adrenaline-soaked fight.
But in among all the sweat, behind the bruised and battered flesh, is the beating heart of a fascinating relationship story – that of soft-centred hard man Skinner and Frank Sinatra fanatic Arden, a slippery figure who uses words to dazzle rather than fists.
Arden, effortlessly played by Krupinski, is the kind of man who likes to toast the Queen before drinking a glass of whisky, but thinks nothing of rigging fights, blackmailing his friends and facilitating murder. Hiding behind the thin veneer of a toothy smile, he is a self-styled Dickensian villain, able to manipulate the trusting Skinner (Paul-Michael Giblin) through razor-sharp one-liners in a way that is deceptively appealing.
With a plot filled with double-crossing, back stabbing and a police force which can be bought over with the right amount of cash, it’s a piece that feels influenced by the world of television drama, but one that tackles the theme of working-class marginalisation in a way that is theatrical and provocative.
Through Krupinski’s excellently choreographed fight sequences, and the sheer physical prowess of Giblin and other members of the cast, we are asked to question how such strength can be celebrated positively when boxing is so often associated with the tragic demise of those it involves.