Testosterone is splashed across the stage from the very beginning of Mikey Burnett and Joseph McCann’s play. Teddy, who has trained his brother Stuart to box for ten years, is arguing with Jack, a multimillionaire promoter, about the next fight – the one that will push Stuart onto the world stage.
In a thick Scottish accent, Teddy spars angrily with the American big shot. A few unsubtle lines pop out – “I’m Stuart’s promoter,” says Jack. “And I’m his trainer,” says Teddy, so the audience can understand who they are. But the script has funny moments, especially the stereotypical American boxing pundits who call Stuart’s hometown “Edimburg” and the moment when Jack, deliberately trying to antagonise Teddy, calls him English instead of Scottish.
During the big fight, Stuart’s final punch kills his opponent and he has to consider whether he can continue his career, or whether guilt will suffocate him. Daniel Campbell, in the moments after Stuart has killed a man, screws up his face and cries in an affecting moment of vulnerability. Patrick Wallace and James Garvock switch easily between being Teddy and Jack and being the boxing pundits. Garvock makes Jack a particularly unlikeable bully, wholly confident that his money can buy him whatever he likes.
The three actors remain on stage for the whole performance, Stuart in boxing shorts, and the coloured ropes of a boxing ring surround them. The staging and direction are simple, not overbearing, and convey exactly what they need to.
The plot has the familiar tropes of a Hollywood sports movie: the dream to make it to the big time, the defining fight, the family backstory. Stuart caught his dad beating his mum when he was little and so became a boxer in order to be able to punch his dad really hard. There is revenge and self-doubt and locker room machismo but Lace Up never feels particularly clichéd. In its pared back stage setting the play hits a comfortable balance between intensity and sentimentality.
Lace Up is at theSpace on North Bridge (Venue 36) until 22 August. For more information and tickets visit the EdFringe website.