Tuesday 5th April 2022 at The Belgrade Theatre, Coventry.
Reviewer: Maygan Forbes
Fighting Irish begins and ends with a punch. A passionate display of pride and identity, the McGough family is at the heart and soul of the boxing ring. “Conflict puts a magnifying glass on identity”. One family, a boxing ring, larger than life dreams, ancestral pride marred by a hail of controversy. Fighting Pride has the audience immersed into the world of boxing and what it means to fight for your country amidst brewing societal tensions. The boxing ring is a home away from home, where dreams stay alive against all odds.
It was hard to find the right words for this review that would do this play justice. Growing up in a boxing fanatic family, boxing was my father’s first sporting achievement. As he went on to win the 1986-1987 South West London National ABA Championship, the first of many. I grew up listening to boxing rhetoric, sat in gyms as my dad trained, I was fascinated with the shadow boxing, the sparring and the jabs. This play keeps its authenticity, the characters dance around the ring like pros.
Jamie McGough acted as a fight consultant and his own decorated history with sports and boxing on a national level helps to create a convincing portrayal of the fighters mind. McGough’s consultancy coupled with Lucy Grassbrook’s choreography and movement direction really helps shape the play and highlight Ireland’s profoundly rich history in the sport. Boxing is etched into the Irish consciousness and the play delicately balances the political with the deeply moving tale of a family. McGough does not divorce the personal from the political, at the centre of the story is politically charged but he remains loyal to his own family’s legacy.
The play centres around a family battling with a conflict of identity, the psychological and moral growth attached to coming-of-age, and the historical stain of belonging and rejection. What does it mean to feel connected to a country that rejects your identity? The acting is superb. With stellar performances from all cast members, each character represents a very focused anxiety on the future; As time elapses, they start to realise that there is no set path and the changing external landscapes reflect the shifting prospective for the family.
The matriarch of the family: Eileen McGough (Rosalind Steele) packs a steely punch stronger than Mike Tyson’s career! A forcefield of pure fight and power wrapped in a loving package. Eileen is the heartbeat of the storyline, her strength radiates throughout the play as she fights for her family. Steele is elegantly fierce as she stomps through the stage, captivating the audiences attention whenever she makes an entrance. But the star of the show is undoubtedly Jarlath McGough (Louis Ellis), Ellis makes his professional theatre debut with Fighting Irish, he represents the inner and outer turmoil of trying to “navigate the glory and loss of ambition in the face of stern opposition”.
The play sprinkles in some immersive elements to keep the audience involved in the story. Characters weave in and out of the audience, joke and engage with us on a level. It reminds us that although this is a story about a specific family, the McGough families values live on within us all. The pride and the passion that is attached to our own heritages and ancestry. The use of music and dance highlight these values, a significant part of Irish history, everybody is encouraged to tap their feet to the upbeat symphonies of traditional Irish songs.
Despite the turbulent landscape, McGough is adamant to conclude that there between generations, there is hope. There is love and pride and legacy. The family don’t let their personal relationship alter the fabricate of their own micro community built in the ring. The ring is where strength and valiance remain. A gorgeous play, from start to finish. The atmosphere amongst the audience was jolly and happy, I couldn’t recommend this play enough. I encourage everyone to tell their friends and family to catch a show whilst the run is still on.
Fighting Irish plays the Belgrade Theatre, Coventry until April 16th 2022 – you can find your tickets here.