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9th October 2016

Review: Gypsy Queen

Though moving and at times hysterical, Rob Ward’s Gypsy Queen didn’t quite meet its potential

Gypsy Queen provides a needed exploration of homosexuality in the boxing arena but is let down by an inconsistent performance.

Gypsy Queen first came to life as part of To Russia with Love (Contact, 2014), a series of short plays exploring sexuality and homophobia in the sporting arena. It’s development into a studio production, however, began following Tyson Fury’s comment “there are only three things that need to be accomplished before the devil comes home and one of them is homosexuality being legal.” Rob Ward (Writer, producer, actor) immediately plays on Tyson’s Fury’s comment, not only in telling a story of two gay men within the boxing world but in also naming his lead character ‘The Gypsy King.’

“For as long as comments like these are made,’ says Ward, “for as long as institutions fail to address the issue of LGBT inclusion and as for as long as these dated notions of masculinity prevail then all I can do as a writer is to tell a story that tries to challenge this and opens a dialogue. That’s the aim of Gypsy Queen.”

The play follows ‘The Gypsy King,’ (also known as George O’Connell or ‘Gorgeous’ George) a boxer from a traveller family taken on by a professional boxing coach, whose own son Dane ‘The Pain’ Samson is openly gay. Under Adam Zane’s direction, Gypsy Queen depicts the parade of bold physical aesthetic in boxing, alongside the challenges of being an openly gay male in both the sporting world and in the traveller community. Detailed physical technique accompanied by a fast-moving dialogue and brisk swings from poetry to prose are the key components of this moving and, at times, brilliant performance.

Instantly combating Fury’s comment, is the allusion to the changing room dynamic and homoerotic nature of sports, initially created through a single cloakroom hook bench. This centrepiece, decorated with a few jackets and other costume props, is the only thing on the stage when the audience enter. Throughout the play, the bench aids the transformation of the characters and scene, acting as a bed, a traveller caravan, a cinema, and, of course, a gym changing room. Though it did function as a good technical tool, the movement around the bench often seemed unrehearsed, jarring the synchronised aspects of the play.

The inconsistency in style and performance continued as the physical and vocal variation from both actors ranged from fantastically detailed to uninspiring. Rob Ward’s George appeared full of whimsical energy and puck-like in his opening poem whilst Ryan Clayton’s Dane lacked in vocal energy and spontaneity. This changed when Clayton took on a Ms. Doyle approach in his role as the brash yet endearing Irish mother of George, Rose O’Connell. Clay, with his almost hyper-masculine physique, wrapped in a leopard print jacket and floral headscarf became the comic highlight of the performance.

Though in need of some retouching Gypsy Queen is certainly worth a watch. The show will be heading down to The Arts Theatre in London for 10th-15th October.

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