As part of the Soho Theatre’s Soho Solo Season 2015, Christopher Fairbank delivers an emotionally charged monologue that, similar to Martin Scorsese’s 1980 classic Raging Bull, follows the rise and fall of Ray’s (Fairbank) time in the ring. Alone at his gym, Ray records a video message for his recently deceased son and displays a vulnerability unfamiliar to the hyper-masculine world of boxing.
The Pyramid Texts refuses to hide behind any theatrics as props are kept to a minimum. The presence of a punching bag and sounds of skipping and sparring (the only recorded sound featured in the play) effortlessly set the scene. This is emphasised by the boxing ring layout of the stage and auditorium. The decision not to include any music or have any lighting changes allows Geoff Thompson’s poetic yet conversational-style script to shine. The overlapping conversations about boxing, memories with his son, and the effect boxing had on Ray’s role as a father is at times humorous, but overall empathetic. The honesty Thompson captures in his writing and Fairbanks’s performance made me pity Ray, even when his admission to alcohol abuse, infidelity and rejecting his son demands feelings of anger.
Ray’s total disregard of his son’s own battle with alcohol helped me to understand the theme of fear. Fear is an emotion that causes a person to confront their issues, run away from them or lash out in anger, and before the audience is a man who in his lifetime did all three.
Ray lived and succeeded, but his fear made him turn to drink, deny his son when he most needed help, and only admit to his fear after he had lost his son. Ray’s fear is rawest when he recounts seeing his son on his deathbed. The climax of the play is painful to watch as Fairbanks breaks down in tears, and the unnervingly still lights capture the glisten in his eyes. Ray concealing his tears and guilt behind his hands forces the heartbreak to chill amongst the audience, whilst the gentle hum of the air conditioning provides a literal chill to the theatre.
Boxing, a physically and mentally demanding sport, is ironically represented to the audience through an aged and frail-looking Ray, which is the perfect symbolism for the juxtapositions that dominate the play. Ray’s violent and graphic description of fights in contrast to the sentimental stories he shared with his son, and his macho persona when training potential boxers compared to his sensitive and remorseful demeanour, help to carry through the play’s theme of fear. These contrasts provide depth to the monologue and also comment on the juxtaposition of the sport itself, which can only be summed up by the famous words of Muhammed Ali: “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee”.
The Pyramid Texts is playing at the Soho Theatre until 20 June. For more information and tickets, see the Soho Theatre website.