Fight Night

Aonghus Óg McAnally in 'Fight Night' by Gavin Kostick. Photo: Tom Swift.

Aonghus Óg McAnally in 'Fight Night' by Gavin Kostick. Photo: Tom Swift.

Aonghus Óg McAnally in 'Fight Night' by Gavin Kostick. Photo: Tom Swift.

Aonghus Óg McAnally in 'Fight Night' by Gavin Kostick. Photo: Tom Swift.

Fight Night is a straightforward piece of storytelling exploring the mind/body dynamic of an Irish male boxer who fights inside and outside the ring for much the same reasons. This is a classic narrative/psychological archetype that dates, if not quite to antiquity, to far enough back in the popular consciousness to fulfill Rise Production's stated aims to reinvestigate quintessentially Irish stories with universal potential.

Near the climax, Daniel Coyle III, known as 'Dan Junior' (performed by Aonghus Óg McAnally) reflects on the drama that defines his life in the shadow of his boxer father, grandfather, and brother: "No man can fight his Da when he's in his prime, and that's the tragedy." Maybe tragedy is pushing it. It is certainly a dramatic dialectic between body and spirit in which the anxiety of patriarchal succession literally embodied in pugilism weighs heavily upon the protagonist, who must evaluate himself relative to past and present conflicts and his capacity to overcome each of them. In the end, the real question is whether he can transcend the paradigm at all in plotting his future.

The show begins with the faint smell of sweat in the room, presumably a remnant of McAnally's rehearsal/warm up. He spends the bulk of this show exercising: performing the rituals of a boxer in training, honing his body in preparation for conflict. He skips, jogs, does press-ups, and shadow boxes with weights - all for real. Meanwhile, with what must be sincerely admired as tremendous fortitude, the actor keeps up a monologue describing the psychological battle the character is waging in fairly obvious parallel to his physical action.

Director Bryan Burroughs must have either a kind or cruel streak in pacing the piece, which breaks into several 'days' leading up to an ultimately unseen final bout during which he changes up the exercises to ever-more gruelling routines. With additional fight coaching from Cathal Redmond, McAnally manages to render a convincing manifestation of the physical boxer. The action never becomes dull, nor does it seem like unnecessary business. Yet this devotion to realism does overwhelm the cerebral side. McAnally isn't able to bring much nuance to his vocalisations as he balances verbal and physical expression, with the notable exception of the finale as he gives indirect voice to the character of Coyle's wife, who provides insight, balance, and tenderness in this unashamedly gruff and hypermasculine landscape.

In fact the show's one step outside the rooted physical domain and into the realm of fantasy is a dream sequence that seems doubly redundant. Though it allows Burroughs and McAnally to explore a different register of movement (McAnally mimes the disconnected gestures of a dream-body, flailing at phantoms, failing to walk), the psychic phantasms against which the character rails are wholly unsurprising. We know from the instant the show begins what kind of play we have here, and this journey wholly inside the mind doesn't add much, though it is well executed.

This more or less sums up the show, which is good, solid storytelling with good, solid craftsmanship and good, solid, hardworking acting from a good, solid script. There’s no revelation or uniqueness here, but there is a communicative and well-rendered execution of a familiar set of conventions.

Dr. Harvey O'Brien lectures in Film Studies in University College Dublin.

  • Review
  • Theatre

Fight Night by Gavin Kostick

10 May - 10 June, 2011

Produced by Rise Productions
In Bewley's Café Theatre

Directed by Bryan Burroughs

Lighting Design: Colm Maher

Sound Design: Emma Butt

Costumes: Lance Faucett

With: Aonghus Óg McAnally