Gypsy Queen is a play about sexuality and survival. Directed by Adam Zane, this sharp two–hander charts the clash of a pair of young boxing titans, Dane ‘The Pain’ Samson (John Askew), and ‘Gorgeous’ George O’Connell (Rob Ward, who also acts as both writer and producer).
Ward’s script is partly a love story, as well as a study of contemporary boxing culture. Boxing is notorious for producing elite athletes who aren’t afraid to speak their minds and flex their egos. In an ecosystem of champions like Tyson Fury, Floyd Mayweather, and Manny Pacquaio – fighters who have all made homophobic slurs in the past few years – it is clear that homosexuality is currently under siege in the upper echelons of the sport. Ward supports this with a narrative that interrogates this culture, and yet he still manages to find moments of humour within stretches of despair.
Ward and Askew command the stage. They multi–role, presenting the audience with a cast of boxing gym managers, ringside attendants, and an arranged girlfriend. Askew’s portrayal of ‘Gorgeous’ George’s conservative and devout Irish mother deserves special mention: a delightful blend of acerbic wit and motherly charm, often lacerating George with a single word. This character almost steals the show – when I attended, the audience started laughing as soon as they saw Askew changing into the mother’s dress – they knew what was coming.
The pacing of the play lands well. Although Gypsy Queen is a love story, there is no melodrama. Refreshingly, neither character is apologetic for being gay. The gazes of the young fighters are fixed squarely on each other, as well as their own respective careers. In addition, moments in a gay sauna are funny and sensitive without becoming a pastiche of the conventional hookup scene.
There is some commentary on the emotional process of coming out, but far more focus is given to the act of survival afterwards. This makes the play particularly tender in its final scenes. Askew and Ward portray men who live and fight day–to–day, who cannot plan ahead, and who must respond to intrusions in their life much like when they fight in the ring.
Gypsy Queen is an assertive, muscular, and insightful piece of theatre that challenges why ‘traditional’ sports still won’t accept gay men. It is a brave production, carried by two sterling performances from Askew and Ward, who are intimate and intimidating in equal measure.
Gypsy Queen is playing at Assembly George Square Studios until 27 August. For more information and tickets, see here.
Photo Credit: Rob Ward