“Have you ever punched someone?” is a question regularly thrown between Stuntman’s two male protagonists, like a medicine ball in a boxing gym. It’s a seemingly casual, playful enquiry, framed to almost conceal the violence an honest answer might portray. For violence and conflict, or rather the influence of these on men and boys, lie at the very centre of Superfan’s highly original and engaging hour of dance, physical theatre and drama.
An opening serenade of the Rocky theme Eye of the Tiger initiates the performers – the superb Sadiq Ali and Dave Banks – engaging in a series of enactments of stylised fight scenes inspired by action films such The Matrix. Light hearted and amusing – as if portrayed by two overgrown schoolboys in a playground – though these are they only partly conceal the ferocity of the physical acts that they represent. These set pieces are effectively punctuated by tales of how both Ali and Banks encountered, or sometimes sought to avoid, violence in their own lives – adrenalin-fuelled experiences that make the narrators feel “100 feet tall”.
Being plucked from practicing parkour on a shopping centre roof to perform stunts in a dubious action movie. Violently responding to a homophobic confrontation. Becoming a teenage victor of a debut mixed martial arts bout. These narratives – which are skilfully augmented in their portrayal through physical theatre – appear, like the action film fight vignettes they pepper, to be grounded in fantasy. That is until an inspired change in pace serves to reveal the latent violence residing in the truth behind the stories.
Stuntman is a piece that truly engages its audience, not least because this sits ‘ringside’ as if in a boxing match. The exploration of violence and its implications for, and impacts upon, masculinity that it provides could be dour, even alienating, in some hands. Yet the obvious chemistry between the piece’s two performers and their empathy with the importance of the themes under exploration mean the show is both dynamic and thought-provoking. The switch back and forth between spoken word and dance – the choreography and delivery of which is reminiscent of the Nederlands Dans Theater at its best – substantially drives everything to an emotionally charged finale, delivering a thoroughly exhilarating 60 minutes that certainly pulls no punches.
Stuntman is an intensely physical, funny, and tender duet by two men who wrestle with their relationship to violence ★★★★★