Even as the brutality and sweaty grittiness of Shadow Boxing makes you wince and want to look away, moments of vulnerability and revelation pull you in.
The intimate and unfussy Masambe Theatre at the Baxter Theatre, where Shadow Boxing is showing until May 28, provide the perfect ringside feeling as we follow the story of one man’s journey from broken boy to beastly ‘champion of the world’ boxer.
Daniel Newton’s performance as Flynn, the broken boxer, is riveting. He is hateful and frightening in his sweaty brutality, pitiful in his vulnerability, and recognisable – familiar even – in his humanity. Authentic and compelling throughout, Newton takes us backwards and forwards through time and place easily (and made me feel like he was talking to me alone).
In one especially poignant scene we see him as a boy, the child of a doomed boxer, at the ringside begging his broken and beaten father, the failed boxer and sadly lacking primary role model, to stay down for the count to 10. He wants so badly for his dad to accept the indignity of a knockout rather than to get up and submit to more beating.
By the time we see him imploring the father he “loves but cannot respect” to stay down, we already know that Flynn is destined to become a version of his dad.
If the idea of children repeating the pain and the patterns of their parents in their efforts to find a place and a way to be loved is not familiar to members of the audience, the tale of the consequences of toxic masculinity should ring a bell for everyone alive today.
But Flynn is very different from his dad too. His terrible confusion about his own identity adds a layer of fragility to his very butch brokenness.
Shadow Boxing feels like a jarring reflection of these brutal times; it is also a searing tale of a personal coming of age that would strip even the strongest among us to their bare bones.
Fresh from the Klein Karoo National Arts Festival, Shadow Boxing is a triumph for Newton, an exceptional new talent, and director Mdu Kwyama.