Director Donald Pulford talks us through his favourite moments touring Shadow Boxing

Director Donal Pulford from Cross Cut Theatre talks us through some of his favourite moments touring Shadow Boxing, and tells us how he stumbled upon the intense production in Melbourne. Shadow Boxing comes to The Studio at The Lowry Sat 20 June.

Shadow Boxing has had the most amazing journey. It is the only play by West End actor, James Gaddas, and has never been published. Somehow, an Australian company got hold of it. I saw it in a shopfront-cum-theatre on a hot evening in Melbourne – just an actor, a punching bag and the bright sun coming through the shopfront window. It was intense. That’s what I loved about it.

In Shadow Boxing, we see what happens when a man has his dream smashed. The play is an experience worth having for the audience because the anguish of disappointment happens to all of us at some stage. The character, Flynn, does not handle it well but his struggle is something I think we can all identify with. Something odd, sad and beautiful happens when theatre shows us people dealing with primal emotions in an extreme situation. In this case, Flynn wants respect, something that many of us take for granted, but his struggle for it is undone by his sexuality.

Cut to England, years later, and I’m directing Weepie, a brilliant early play by Chris Goode. One of my actors is Jonny Collis. I observe Jonny’s precise physicality and capacity to embody a character. As well, Jonny demonstrates that he is more than equal to the astounding emotional demands that Weepie makes of its actors. In other words, he can handle the intense work that attracts me.

When Weepie finished, I wanted to keep working with Jonny and Shadow Boxing sprang to mind. It was obvious in a way: the character is a boxer and Jonny is a Mixed Martial Arts fighter. We spent a lot of time in rehearsal working on the physical business, especially matching the rhythms of speech and movement.

Jonny Collis-Scurll in Shadow Boxing
Jonny Collis-Scurll in Shadow Boxing

It’s been quite an adventure and here are a few of my favourite memories.

  • Edinburgh – Jonny being mobbed by teenagers excited by his performance;
  • old ex-boxers watching intently and compassionately.
  • In Italy, it’s the last night of a festival and the audience is applauding wildly. Jonny was then a reluctant bower and it seems that he’s not coming out to acknowledge the applause. Our tech takes matters into his own hands, turning off all the back stage lights. Jonny takes the hint and appears. There are four curtain calls.
  • In New York, we see our show on a big banner outside the midtown theatre where we’re performing. Soon, Jonny and I are standing in the middle of the stage, feeling like two little blokes from provincial England as what seems like a huge number of people rush around us getting our show in.

The reaction to our show has been brilliant. We have a swag of five-star reviews and the show really connects with people. Jonny’s stamina in the show is impressive. The Scotsman felt that ‘Most people wouldn’t be able to breathe after performing five minutes of this show’. More than this, though, Flynn emerges in Jonny’s performance as a decent and dedicated young man who deserves to be happy. We share his anger and anguish when something happens to deny his happiness. We’ve all been there.