Fight Like a Girl was performed by Youth Music Theatre UK at Sunny Bank Mills, Farsley, West Yorkshire.
Star rating: five stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
The audience is admitted to a vast open space, vibrant with 40 young people sparring and warming up, as though for a fight.
This is a promenade performance with the actors physically moving audience members around from scene to scene. With this kind of close proximity, the cast has to be absolutely committed to the drama to be convincing, and they are, in spades.
Against my expectations, a story of family love and hate emerges. The boxing is there, convincingly so, and I flinch as punches thud into bodies, but it is a secondary theme to that of sisterly love and endurance.
Nicola Myers plays the astonishing Shan who is separated from her younger sister, Jess, because of an abusive father. The acting could so easily be overwrought, but Myers strikes the right note time after time and sings with an an assurance well beyond her years.
After a succession of foster homes and then a young offenders’ institution, Shan discovers boxing. Overcoming prejudice, particularly from the boys, she channels her aggression into the ring, eventually challenging the Champ played by Elizabeth-Rose Esin-Kelly. If Myers has the voice, Esin-Kelly has the moves.
Their eventual climactic clash, orchestrated by MC Michael Taphouse, combines the dogged persistence of Shan with the mesmerising movement of the The Champ. The challenger emerges victorious.
Eventually, Shan finds her sister, the waif-like Alice Grove, and confronts her father, knife in hand. Mercifully, nobody says: “He’s not worth it, Shan,” as she stalks her eminence gris on his release from prison, but ultimately she realises the futility of revenge.
Presiding over the production was director Ellie Jones who had little development time and, in the main, only human resources to work with. She found the means to add in some effective touches to the show’s large-scale vision. For example, the disembodied hands clutching at Shan, dragging her back to her appalling childhood, are suitably sinister.
Choreographer Tony Mills is able to integrate the boxing with more conventional dance and extracts some thrilling routines from the inexperienced cast.
Book and lyrics by Nick Stimson are far from jolly, but the many touches of humanity and wit lighten what could easily have been a gloomy evening, especially given the rusting girders of the factory floor acting space.
The music by James Atherton also gives ample room for the singers in the cast to test their ability to fill a big space.
Youth Music Theatre’s raison d’etre is the development of fresh talent. I suspect there were many more bright performers in this ensemble piece than I could identify from such a brief acquaintance. Let’s hope that in 12 months time I encounter another cohort of eager and skilful performers.
Readers may also be interested in:
The Great Gatsby – Youth Music Theatre UK – Wilde Theatre, South Hill Park Arts Centre, Bracknell – Review.