Review – Raymond “Fight” Beck
Stepping into the Ring and out into Life
There’s always been something about boxing that made it more than just a sport. The close quarters, the skill, the sacrifice, the rage, all reach out and seem to communicate something more than meets the eye about this noble art, something that wants to reach and peer into the human condition. In this regard, Raymond “Fight” Beck, written by Andre Mangion and directed by Sean Buhagiar, is unlike anything I’ve yet to see do the rounds on the theatre circuit. It is so many things rolled up in one; a fight, a greek tragedy, but above all else, it is unmistakably and honestly Maltese.
The play has a very contemporary element that immediately draws you in; in a way it is very accessible and presents something straightforward without being simplistic. Here one must laud the writer, whose skill in creating the story world and the characters who inhabit it is evident from the first handful of scenes. Mangion is a young writer whose perspective is refreshing and interesting, and his work shows a deep sensitivity and desire to delve into the human psyche.
In “Fight” Beck, the titular Raymond is an unmistakably tragic figure, and as we join him on his journey of struggle; to survive, to manage his anger, to keep food on his family’s table, we realize that boxing is the vehicle that caters to all of these needs. Meanwhile his rival, Dyson, comes from a more privileged background where all of his comforts are met, and thus boxing becomes a point of obsession for him. At the expense of everything else, Dyson is driven to win above all. The rivalry between these two men and the way their lives and the lives of the people around them intersect is the heart of it all, and as it unfolds amidst the bustling village square in Żejtun, it is very easy to find a kinship with any of these characters. Mangion is also very adept at structure and building tension within his story. The plot doesn’t let up and builds drama gradually, just enough to keep you invested but not overwhelmed, while injecting moments of levity whenever the script calls for it.
One of the more interesting elements of the production is that it doesn’t seem to have been produced in the more typical ways that theatre usually is. Some of the production design gives the impression of having more traditionally filmic qualities than theatrical ones, creating an interesting blend of realism and the visceral yet dream like qualities of the interludes. The actual fight scenes are outright exhilarating, showing not only the dedication and physicality of the performers, but great attention towards presentation and choreography. Every scene in which fighters went head to head was astounding and the height of entertainment, not only raising the stakes within the plot, but contributing a beautiful visual narrative, working in tandem to bring to these scenes harmony. The sound design and musical numbers are also a contributing factor in the more filmic aspects of the production. Overseen by local rap duo Marmalja, their socially conscious and topical verses overlayed onto Raymond’s life are an unusual but welcome innovation in production.
Of all there is to praise of this play, the performances are in no way undeserving. In particular, John Montanaro and Davide Tucci have done outstanding work in the lead roles as Raymond and Dyson respectively. Both of these roles were extremely demanding, physically as well as emotionally, which Montanaro and Tucci managed to balance and give complex and genuine performances. The cast in general should be well congratulated on how cohesive and strong their performances remain. Many of the physical scenes definitely required good planning and trust, which the cast had no problem delivering. A nod here to Buhagiar’s direction, as pulling off a production such as this was definitely not a simple task, however Sean Buhagiar has managed to tackle it well and elegantly.
It is my understanding that both the writer and director had a common goal in staging a play that wants to reach out not just to the typical theatre goer. In this regard, I would judge the play a resounding success. The decision to cast actors with name recognition as well as dependable talent, coupled with an excellent script was wise and effective. I would definitely recommend Raymond “Fight” Beck to anyone who hasn’t been to a theatre in years and to the people who are at the theatre every week. It’s fresh, it’s innovative, and it’s created something special and new that speaks to our culture as well as our humanity.
Written by Jessica Arena