Emma McDonald will play Anna Lamb in Troupe’s production of The Sweet Science of Bruising by Joy Wilkinson which transfers to Wilton’s Music Hall, following its sold-out run at Southwark Playhouse last year.

Fresh from a sold-out run at Southwark Playhouse, Joy Wilkinson (current writer for Doctor Who) brings to life this little-known but important part of the City’s history. Featuring an ensemble cast and thrilling live boxing matches, The Sweet Science of Bruising is staged in the electrifying atmosphere of the world’s oldest grand music hall located in London’s East End, Wilton’s Music Hall.

The Sweet Science of Bruising is at Wilton’s Music Hall 5th – 29th June 2019.

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You’re appearing in The Sweet Science of Bruising, what can you tell us about it?

The Sweet Science of Bruising is a play set in 1869 with four female protagonists, all from very different walks of life, all facing their own challenges. They get mixed up in the underground world of female boxing and find freedom in the ring! They all go on very different journeys of emotional and psychological discovery and battle it out to be named the female boxing champion of the world. It’s an incredibly liberating, funny and moving play, even more so when you discover that women were indeed boxing in the 19th and even 18th century here in England.

Tell us about your character, what do you like most about her?

I play Anna Lamb who is an upper middle-class lady. She’s a mother and a wife and finds herself trapped in an abusive relationship. She’s also stifled by her class and position and is incredibly isolated; her only friend is her lady’s maid. She’s often anxious as she has no control over what she says or does; she doesn’t really eat, and she is never really listened to. We initially see her very bruised, berated and beaten down. She stumbles upon the underground world of Victorian female boxers and becomes increasingly engrossed by it. Through it she finds freedom, ownership, an appetite for life and an outlet for her fear. I love Anna as she is quietly determined and incredibly brave, and yet outwardly she appears weak. She has an incredible resolve and an unwavering love for her children.

The show recently played Southwark Playhouse, will this production be different?

Yes! I’m told (unsurprisingly) that the play had a sell-out run at Southwark Playhouse; unfortunately, I didn’t see it. I wasn’t in the original cast and neither were six others in our cast of ten so it is pretty much a new cast. Kirsty Patrick Ward (the director) has approached the production from scratch and very little discussion about the original show has been had. In that sense it’s an entirely new show. Joy Wilkinson (the writer) has done some rewrites and scenes have been cut and some added. We have an amazing new movement director Natasha Harrison and an incredible fight director Kate Waters who is also new to the production. The thrilling fights and bold movement pieces are integral to the show and both Kate and Natasha have elevated the play massively with their organic, exciting and character-led direction. Kate also has a really great understanding of boxing and so her direction has been key as the play features eight or more fight sequences, most of which are full-on boxing matches. A new fight has also been added into the show which is incredibly violent and rather shocking but I shan’t give away any spoilers!

The costumes have all been sourced and designed by the glorious Anna Reid and these have also been reworked as has the set! I’m told the corsets are even more boned and restrictive than they were before which makes fighting all the more fun?!

The new and improved set compliments our new venue, the magical Wilton’s Music Hall – perfect for our play! In fact, it was built a mere ten years before our play, which is set in 1869! It has too many original features to list and the floorboards on the stage are the original boards! I have even heard whispers that it’s highly likely that the stage will have once been used for a boxing match – you literally cannot get more authentic than that!

It’s set in Victorian London; how do you think today’s audiences will relate to the show?

I think anyone who’s ever experienced exclusion, isolation, oppression or abuse will draw massive parallels with the four female protagonists. Anyone who’s ever fancied a change, or felt like they wanted to take control of their lives, anyone who’s felt angry, or anyone that’s felt sad or lost; anyone that’s sought competition or camaraderie, anyone who’s been drawn to violence or danger. Anyone who stands for equality and female empowerment, and anyone who fancies a good laugh or a good cry.

The play, although set in the Victorian period, is so timely what with the recent abortion laws and the notion of men telling women what they can and cannot do with their bodies, which is something we have discussed at length during rehearsals and return to in the play. A horrific medical procedure is also carried out in the play which happened in Victorian England but also happens now and that was incredibly disturbing, shocking and yet powerful to discuss and rehearse and I’m sure will also effect many watching the show.

What’s the most challenging thing about staging this play?

I think for me one of the most challenging things about staging the show is how physical it is – we all had to get not only show fit, but rehearsal fit whilst wearing full Victorian dress. Learning all the choreography for the fights and movement sections has also been a bit of a challenge. In this show there’s a real possibility that with one wrong move you could end up punching someone hard in the face. We all have to be so tight and really work together as a unit. Joy is also such a pacy and energetic storyteller, weaving together multiple storylines in quick succession, it’s a real whirlwind to get your head around at first, and it took me a while to just trust the pace and flow of the text. Thinking on the line and simply jumping in head or feet first has become invaluable and is now really good fun. Although I’m sure I’ll find myself frantically running around backstage like a headless chicken.

What would you say to anyone thinking of coming to see The Sweet Science of Bruising?

I would say you have made a really wise choice! Haha. Do bring tissues – it does get a wee bit sad, expect a spectacle and the unexpected, be prepared that you will likely want to take up boxing after the show; I certainly will be continuing with it. Finally, have fun – it’s a seriously thrilling show and I wish I could watch it!

Greg is an award-winning writer with a huge passion for theatre. He has appeared on stage, as well as having directed several plays in his native Scotland. Greg is the founder and editor of Theatre Weekly

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