Joe Raynor speaks to James Ashton about Broken Souls’s new production Shadow Boxing...
James Ashton is one of two members of the South Wales-based theatre company, Broken Souls. Ashton formed the company with good friend and actor Alex Harries after the two met while studying at Queen Margaret’s in Edinburgh. Harries is not only an actor but also an ex amateur boxer – so no messing about then. Harries’s boxing doesn’t just come in handy when settling a theatrical debate, but also fits perfectly with the role of Flynn in Shadow Boxing.
Ashton explains: “Broken Souls was specifically formed to put on this one production.” Shadow Boxing, written by James Gaddas, is described on Broken Souls’s website as a “tough, energetic, fast-paced 50 minute ringside performance”. Shadow Boxing follows the life of Flynn, a boxer, living in the shadow of his father’s failure. Flynn decides he must train to become a better fighter than his father ever was, and in doing so he must come to terms with his identity, facing up to his past and prejudices.
Ashton tells me that the ethos of the company is about “getting people who wouldn’t normally go to the theatre to come to the theatre. This time, because we are doing it in a boxing gym, we are focusing on boxers and getting people that are interested in sport interested in the arts.” For Ashton, theatre is not an exclusive art-form and Broken Souls is doing everything it can to reach out to the local Cardiff community, where Shadow Boxing is set. “We just like taking theatre, taking stories and putting them in environments they are actually meant to be in, I guess, which is the site-specific part of the company,” says Ashton. Broken Souls does not classify itself as a solely site-responsive or -specific company, but its ethos and love of stories means taking performances to the public is central to its work.
The name Broken Souls came from the realisation that everyone is flawed, and that the characters which displayed this are the most interesting to explore. Ashton says: “We went for Broken Souls because we were discussing what it is we love about drama and theatre, and in particular stories were key to us, we love a good story, but within that the characters we were particularly interested in were flawed characters, the broken characters, the ones that have just got something that isn’t quite right are the ones that really grab us… there is so much imperfection but something really engaging about that, knowing that there is good in everybody. It was the broken souls that really captured our imagination.”
Ashton saw Shadow Boxing at the Edinburgh Festival in 1997 and says “it was the one show which I’ve ever seen that I was just mesmerised by, this man goes through this physical workout as well as delivering a story and it was just a spectacle to watch, that for me really wakened my imagination as a 17-year-old lad.” This was only the beginning of Ashton’s theatrical journey, as he explains, “a few years later I went to drama school and met Alex, an ex-amateur boxer and thought, what better piece of theatre to get involved with than Shadow Boxing?”. It seems that Ashton was destined to do this piece from a very young age and now, 16 years later, he is doing it.
Audience members will pick up their tickets for the show at Chapter Arts Centre and will then be taken on a bus to the site of the performance, a few miles outside Cardiff. Ashton explains: “we thought, why not make the experience like that of going off to a fight? There will be a few of us looking like boxers, we’ll have a fight up on the DVD player, it’s to create a buzz and the thrill of not knowing where you are going.” This fully immersive piece about a son who wants to eradicate his father’s failure will open your eyes to the endless possibilities of theatre. Bringing theatre to community and vice versa is incredibly important to Ashton and he cannot praise Phoenix Boxing Gym, in Llanrumney, enough for its support. The themes may be dark, but it is clear that this company has a bright future ahead.
Shadow Boxing is on from 23–27 July, and tickets are available from Chapter Arts Centre. The show is suitable for ages 16+.
Phoenix Boxing Gym is campaigning for an extension to its present building. To find out more about the gym and its campaign visit: www.brokensouls.co.uk/#!support-us/c65q.