Downstairs Belvoir are continuing a relatively successful tradition of new interesting works, playing with form and exploring local content and writing. This is certainly encapsulated in Roslyn Oades’ creation and direction of ‘I’m Your Man’.
Oades’ play uses recorded transcripts of interviews with 7 professional boxers and has edited these down to represent the journey and life of her subjects in this 70 minute play. However, rather than her cast memorising lines, the actors wear headphones and speak along to the sequence of these carefully edited audio interviews word-for-word, including every cough and stumble. This technique has ensured there is an authenticity to the words and ‘hyper-real’ performances.
Having 5 actors play a series of characters with different accents, backgrounds, ages and in one case, gender, has enhanced this strict verbatim technique and is thoroughly engaging for the audience. There is some initial confusion, as alluded to before, regarding the one female in the cast, Katia Molino, whether she is playing a male boxer but it becomes clear through her skill and commitment that her characters are all male and the bravery in casting pays off in this respect (and FYI, her incredible agility and fitness made every woman in the audience green with envy).
One of the challenges for the performers but delights for the audience is in the action and design of the play. The stage is kitted out to represent a training gym for the ‘boxers’, complete with fight posters and inspirational quotes, and they circuit around the equipment with incredible commitment between their direct audience addresses or interaction with each other or their audience. Heaven knows, watching John Shrimpton’s sweat pour off him and form pools of occupational health and safety certainly added to the authenticity of the whole event. There is a real sense of the world of the boxers and the choices they have made in whatever stage they are in their careers as well as their hopes and, at times, dashed dreams. The play honours the integrity of the subjects in the most theatrical yet real way possible.
Kudos to the entire ensemble for their ability to bring a truth and belief to each moment and their ability to communicate this to their audience. The cast realise all their roles with great empathy as well as vocal and physical skill.
This is a play that you really should try to see before its season finishes for the festival, although I sincerely doubt we’ve seen the last of it. It’s the sort of play I’d love to see do a Regional tour so aspiring auteurs of theatre can be inspired by local writing and acting.
‘I’m Your Man’ is a success of verbatim technique and I can’t imagine any audience member leaving the space having not enjoyed Oades’ experiment in recording and staging the courageous subjects brought to life in her unique and skilled direction.