Boxing play to bring audience ringside for knockout performance

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Audiences to a new production by theatre company Broken Souls will get to experience all the blood, sweat and tears of the boxing ring in a one man show that packs no punches.

Shadow Boxing is to be performed at the Phoenix Boxing Gym in Llanrumney, in Cardiff, next month, and will see actor Alex Harries (Emmerdale, Pobol Y Cwm) push himself to the limit physically.

The play follows Flynn, an angry young man who has been physically abused in the past, as he is hell-bent on revenge and making a name for himself in the sport.

Alex Harries stars in Shadow Boxing. Photo: AME photography

I caught up with Alex and the show's director James Ashton to find out just what is in store for audiences.

James said: "The audience will be immediately transported into Flynn's world, a world where training and hard work is the key to both success and overcoming his own personal demons.

"The audience will be stood for most of the production which allows them to choose their point of view when watching the show and they will be surrounded by punch bags, a boxing ring, boxing memorabilia and the genuine smells and feel of a real gym."

Preparing for the show's physical demands has been a tough process for Alex who, although previously an amateur boxer, has had to train 10 times a week since February with a mixture of boxing, circuits and running, under guidance from two professional amateur boxing trainers, Thear Al-Shayei and Gareth Seward. He has also had advice from a dietitian about properly fuelling his body for each rigorous performance.

Shadow Boxing is the d├ębut production for Broken Souls. The pair decided to set up the company having met in drama school in Edinburgh and have known one another for over a decade.

It was first seen by James in 1997 at the Edinburgh Festival, incidentally having been written by another Emmerdale actor, James Gaddas.

Rehearsing Shadow Boxing in the ring. Photo: AME photography

James said: "It was a physical tour de force and when I found out Alex used to be an amateur boxer I told him we had to get hold of this show.

"Wales has such a strong heritage of producing boxers and the sport is still so prevalent in Wales that I felt it was right that we produce this.

"I couldn't find a copy or get the rights anywhere but by chance two years ago the writer, James, and Alex came together to do a guest slot on Emmerdale and got talking about it and James said 'sure you can do the show'.

"Alex told me this and immediately I knew we had to set it in a gym. We talked about characters that we like and what's important to us and we both decided that stories and characters with flaws and imperfections are the things we find most interesting in drama as none of us are perfect, hence the 'broken souls' are the ones we connect with the most.

"Our ethos really became to bring theatre to people that may not necessarily normally come to see it and to show audiences that theatre still appeals to younger audiences as well as older ones because it can be physically demanding as well as mentally."

After walking out on his own father's humiliating defeat in the ring, Flynn vows to train, to fight and to be better than his father ever could be.

For Alex, Flynn represents a quintessential hard luck story, in terms of his life so far.

He said: "Bullied, physically abused and therefore looking for revenge, redemption and resurrection, boxing is the perfect avenue for him really. It's black and white; you win or you lose."

A boxer's bound fist. Photo: AME photography

For James, setting the play in a boxing gym was a no-brainer as it added an immersive element to the show, with a ready-made stage set to enhance the overall experience.

The Phoenix Amateur Boxing Gym is located on a housing estate in the east side of Cardiff and was transformed from a former scout hut into a working gym a few years ago.

He said: "As soon as we entered the Phoenix gym we knew it was perfect, not only for the limited audience capacity that we had but we immediately got the support of the entire gym.

"Lighting and staging will be an interesting challenge as there are punch bags everywhere and with 40 audience members a night with free rein on where they walk, it will be down to Alex as the actor to choose his stage to tell his story as he works around the audience."

As the gym is quite hard to find, Broken Souls are providing transport to bring the audiences there from the Chapter Arts Centre in Canton and get them into the spirit of the performance.

James said: "Luckily we've been sponsored by local coach company Ferris Coach Holidays who will transport our audience from Chapter as though they are off to a boxing match.

"They will travel across Cardiff to the gym already geared up to experience something unknown and exciting."

The pair hope to continue in this experiential vein for their next production and want to collaborate with other companies keen to stage plays in unusual settings and formats.

James said: "Alex would like to direct the next piece and I will probably act in it.

"We have an idea for a show that we are developing with a playwright friend of ours about the life of a blues singer that James is a huge fan of. We'd like to look at doing this with blues singers and clubs.

"This show also has potential for another life and touring to other boxing gyms depending on how exhausted Alex is going to be by the end of the show week!"

The only way to get to the gym for the performance will be via the Shadow Boxing Bus that will collect audiences from Chapter Arts Centre at 7.30pm and will take them to the gym in Llanrumney, with a return trip back to Chapter by 9.30pm.

Shadow Boxing is on from 23-27 July. Tickets are available from Chapter in Cardiff on 029 2031 1050 or www.chapter.org and include return bus transport.

For more information on Broken Souls visit brokensouls.co.uk.

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