Despite Hope Theatre Company’s name, this production did not leave me very hopeful about the issue it was raising – that of discrimination against LGBT people in sport. However, in dealing with this potentially delicate issue, Gypsy Queen achieves a good balance between funny and moving in this clever new two-hander.
Writer Rob Ward, who also stars, is an extremely talented writer and performer, packing into a neat 70 minutes what many would struggle to fit into an entire novel. The play is a love story between two boxers, who must surmount the pressures from their families, religions and the masculine expectations of the sporting world. Featuring short scenes and an array of characters, Ward’s script also includes various pieces of poetic narration which help the story progress and work beautifully in the context of the play. He also cleverly strings the audience along with his characterisation of a number of the smaller characters – parts that at first seem like sketchily done stereotypes or walk-on roles become relevant as the play goes on, which caught me out more than once.
In the simple set of a changing room, Ward and Ryan Clayton play every other character that the two men meet, grabbing simple props or costumes from the changing room pegs to transform themselves. This is neatly and efficiently done: never distracting or over-the-top. Clayton shines in particular as an Irish Catholic mother. Adam Zane, who directs, has made the transitions between scenes seamless by making sure they are done entirely in character, which makes it hard to find a weak moment as each actor flows from being one character to the next. Owen Rafferty’s sound design helps with this process.
There are laugh-out-loud moments in this play, despite the seriousness of some of the content. Ward and Clayton both have excellent comic timing but can switch between huge, comic moments and tender, soft ones in a heartbeat. They both show great versatility, and it is ultimately their chemistry which makes the performance so strong. Heart-breaking, raw and highly emotional, this really is one not to miss.