Boxing and theatre - a beautiful match

Early in the year our PR supremo Liz Hyder let us see a draft of an article she had written for the Ludlow Ledger about Ludlow Amateur Boxing Club. We had been meeting, along with our brilliant new co-director Jules Woodman, to discuss potential theatrical ideas that would help Rooftop develop and grow.

A very exciting thought took hold: boxing would make great theatre. It is dynamic, physical, dangerous, ritualised, visceral and compelling. And what about a boxing club – wouldn’t that make a great venue for live theatre? To use the ring and incorporate the punch bags, the gloves, head guards and paraphernalia? Liz said that the Ludlow club was friendly and welcoming; I decided to take a look and thought, well I might as well join in .

Down at the boxing club

After a quick hello the Oli the coach said “grab a rope and warm up”. And so I started skipping (sort of) for the first time since school. At first it was slightly bashfully alongside a group of teenagers. But they didn’t care and after a short while I was stumbling and tangling away in front of some large mirrors and enjoying it.

Following this were exercises and circuits. For a full hour I did jogging, lunges, press-ups, the plank, crouches, knees up, more plank, more press-ups. Only then were gloves allowed on and I attempted to convince a punch bag to move. Oli came over and gave a good 10 minutes of instruction after which I was moving with some sense of technique and the punch bag was responding marginally with the occasional well-timed impact.

Meanwhile sparring started up in the ring and I rested by watching and being drawn in to the intense focus and effort of young people learning and improving their technique. The coaches’ supervision helped them make every moment count.

The two hours was an exhausting experience which took days to recover from. But a week later I was back and soon I was hooked – by the boxing and the beguiling appeal of Ludlow Amateur Boxing Club.

The club trains people of all ages from 8 year olds to seniors and all train together. There is something very grounding about doing tricep dips with an eight year old doing sit ups on one side and a teenager performing horse leaps on the other, with grownups in various states around the gym. There’s not much talking, a bit of occasional friendly banter and the odd naughty youthful swipe at a bag as we jog past. The behaviour is focussed, respectful and polite.

Focussed, respectful and polite also applies in the ring. It is astonishing watching boxing close up, particularly teenagers and juniors. The concentration and seriousness is compelling. They are trying to hit and not be hit at the same time and their speed and attrntion draws you in. Sometimes they forget proper technique and flail or trade blows. The coach will stop them and remind them to box properly. Sparring at training sessions is not about winning but learning and it is satisfying to see young boxers learn and mature.

I have had a few goes sparring in the ring and have been amazed at my own willingness to step towards danger; to expose myself to some risk and take a few hits. I’ve sparred with some of the teenagers and while I love the idea of being down with the kids, to be honest they’re too fast and I’m too old and slow in reaction. The hits I’ve taken have been much more bearable than you would imagine. We’re all in headgear of course and wearing gum shields. And boxing at this level is not that powerful. However, I prefer to spar in a more controlled manner with people who know how to hold back. And let me hit them a couple of times!

Theatre, boxing and the Arts Council

The community spirit at LABC is tremendous and work it does is so good that it deserves more publicity and appreciation.

With this in mind we approached Flo Hadley, the then Secretary of the club, with an idea for a theatrical performance there. One that would attract people to the club from other parts of Ludlow who had never been up there, or to the area it was in. She was curious and really engaged with us. After a chat with the coaches they gave us the go-ahead.

We wanted this project to be one that represented a change for Rooftop. A development from one-off plays for a theatre-aware audience to a community theatre strategy that would engage different people both as project partners and as audience. This one ticked all the boxes and an Arts Council application was prepared.