Sunday, January 22, 2017

Prize Fighter (Sydney Festival)

Prize Fighter by Future D. Fidel. Presented by Belvoir in association with Sydney Festival: La Boite Theatre Company and Brisbane Festival at Belvoir Street Theatre, January 6-22, 2017.

Director – Todd MacDonald
Dramaturg – Chris Kohn; Designer – Bill Haycock; Lighting Designer – David Walters;  Composer and Sound Designer – Felix Cross;  Movement and Fight Director – Nigel Poulton
Pacharo Mzembe - Isa;  Zindzi Okenyo – Rita / Nyota / Sofia;  Thuso Lekwape – Kadogo / Tim; Margi Brown-Ash - Luke;  Gideon Mzembe – Moses / Matete / Jeff Wilkie;  Kenneth Ransom – Alaki / Old Man / Wayne Durain

Reviewed by Frank McKone
January 21

I’m glad that Prize Fighter only ran for a little over an hour because the story is too horrific for longer exposure.
Future D. Fidel writes “The International Rescue Committee (IRC) has reported a death toll of 5.4 million Congolese since 1996.  That’s a quarter of Australia’s current population.  The war in Congo has created hundreds of child soldiers and resulted in a high level of rape of young and old women.  Prize Fighter is a mythical story inspired by personal experiences of these wars, and resonates around trauma from family loss and motivations of the Democratic Republic of Congo.”

Fidel means his own personal experiences, forced to flee to Tanzania with some family members around 1997, learning later that his mother had been killed in Congo, fortunately re-united with his sister through Red Cross contact in 2002, and finally both accepted by Australia in 2005 after 8 years in a refugee camp.  Todd MacDonald in his Director’s Note writes: “Part of this work reflects Future’s story, his history.  Part is a fiction but the stories are real and everything in this work derived from real situations that Future experienced directly or indirectly.”

That the stories are real hits straight home as 10-year-old Isa (pronounced ‘Eesah’) sees his father Alaki shot dead, his sister Nyota raped and then shot to fall on her father’s body.  His brother Moses had already been sent to another village by his father, after teaching Isa the rudiments of boxing – to defend himself.  Isa has the choice of being killed at this point, or staying alive as a soldier for the very militia who murdered his father and sister, hoping he will find his brother some day.
Ironically in Australia he becomes a champion by having to learn “to box, not fight”; but we understand that his memories of what he has done and what was done to him in Congo are his driving force – until he learns of his brother’s recent death, kept secret from him until he has won the championship, and the money which he needed for his plan to bring Moses to safety here.

The basic set is a boxing ring, at Luke’s Gym, which transforms seamlessly into scenes in Congo, the refugee camp in Tanzania, even the interview with Australian Immigration officials, through to the championship fight, all done with cleverly managed lighting and sound design and costume changes.

The effect is at times and sometimes all at once exciting, terrifying and deeply depressing.  But theatrically spot on.