Review by James Ong
Shadow Boxing follows Flynn, an up-and-coming boxer, as he rises through the ranks to garner as much money, respect and championships as he can. Over the course of his career, the battler faces familial demons, career setbacks and a cruel world that is decidedly not welcoming of his homosexuality. Playwright James Gaddas blends a no-nonsense and gritty tale with an elevated, almost mythological air - as if we’re watching an Ancient Greek tragedy unfold in a contemporary era. Flynn jumps between obsessive and passionate prose and more measured, colourful poetry (with a healthy smattering of real-world boxing industry references) keeping us intentionally off kilter and hungry for a sense of stability. Director Teresa Izzard channels this energy well, building a menacing and flexible energy in the Erskineville Town Hall (a venue known for being somewhat barren). Darkness engulfs the space, with a series stark, chilling spotlights and swirling soundscapes not only mimicking the opening moments of a title bout, but also creating an amorphous, otherworldly atmosphere - as if we’ve stepped directly into the fragmented mind of the fighter himself. Samuel Addison plays our title fighter with guns ablazing, rattling off his lines with a startling intensity and furore. Flynn’s deep-seated resentment for the brutally unfair world that surrounds him is a point made loud and clear; though Addison does seem to be trapped in a tonal prison, with his only two modes being violent outrage and simmering outrage. A broad and unfocused anger may be at the heart of the would-be-champion’s heart, but a smattering of tenderness in our character’s extended internal monologues would lend the piece an essential element of authenticity. This becomes especially prevalent as we delve into the characters burgeoning queerness and the resultant abuse he suffers of coming out in a world that is actively hostile towards the community. To be clear, Addison does aptly perform the gravitas of the narrative peaks, but with such a frantically high emotional baseline, audience investment is more or less stuck in a plateau for these pivotal character moments. The aforementioned criticisms may all be attributed to one simple factor, the show’s 50 minute time constraint. It’s very rare in theatre (especially independent theatre), that a show would benefit from a longer runtime, but here it feels that the verbiage was too dense and the emotions too complex to be limited by Shadow Boxing’s allowed time slot. An additional half and hour would have surely done wonders for the pacing and subtleties, whilst also giving Addison some much needed breathing room throughout the 12 rounds he endures onstage. The glimmers of self-reflection and non-verbal storytelling (which the team obviously put a lot of work into) would actually be allowed to shine. Ultimately, Feet First Collective’s production of Shadow Boxing is a promising work, with sturdy bones that seem hindered by the limitations of a Sydney Fringe setting. The team does well enough within these bounds to craft a character study that is informed by generational trauma and cultural obsession with brutality, but the non-stop barrage of emotional punches leaves the audience somewhat calloused and unable to feel the gut-punches thrown our way.