Set during the not-so-distant past of the Victorian era where women did not have the right to higher education and were expected to play an ever-subservient role, Joy Wilkinson’s The Sweet Science of Bruising tells the story of four women who are anything but. Over two and a half hours, we watch Violet Hunter (Sophie Bleasdale), Matilda ‘Matty’ Blackwell (Jessica Regan), Anna Lamb (Kemi- Bo Jacobs) and Polly Stokes (Fiona Skinner) fall into the fledgling world of female boxing, each for their own reasons which ultimately pertain to being in control of their own lives.
Each character is played beautifully by the actors, every life well-rounded and full of depth, completely drawing the audience into these interwoven stories. Under the direction of Kirsty Patrick Ward, Skinner’s Polly is explosively bolshie yet loveable as her character is brought down from the north of England to London by Professor Charlie Sharp (Bruce Alexander) along with her ‘brother’ Paul Stokes (played by James Baxter), in order to become a boxing attraction. However, when she beats him during the inaugural fight, the Professor starts up female-centric boxing nights after noticing this niche. Regan’s sparky Matty impresses as she plays cat and mouse with everyone she encounters whilst possessing a sort of tragic aura. Also, Jacobs’ tormented performance of Anna is truly heart-breaking, contrasting with Bleasdale’s wholly driven Violet, a nurse who is struggling to find the support to become a qualified doctor.
The creative team behind this show deserve praise as the seamless scene transitions, costume and sound design create a fast-paced energy which helps to drive the story forward. Tim Deiling places spotlights in specific areas of the space to suggest various locations, and though Anna Reid’s set design is sparse, the minor details she does include are enough to spark one’s imagination into filling in the gaps, whilst providing some stunning costume pieces with Flora Moyes’ supervision.
It is unbelievable to think of the scrutiny women have endured and the lengths they had to go to in order to do the things they wanted to, from paving career paths to the way they dressed when within the walls of their own homes. Wilkinson discusses topics such as the matter of female satisfaction during sex, FGM, and having to choose between a family or a career – matters which are still being debated to this day.
There has been some change, but the ultimate message of this production is that we still have a long way to go to before equality is achieved for all. Predominately, it is that we should never give up a good fight.
The Sweet Science of Bruising is playing Southwark Playhouse until 27th October 2018. For more information and tickets, see here.