Gypsy Queen achieves a lot in a single act. At the heart of this 70-minute boxing drama is an unexpectedly sweet gay love story, and a relationship shaped both by the macho world of professional sport and the expectations of close-knit families.
Writer Rob Ward plays ‘Gorgeous’ George O’Connell, a street fighter from the traveller community, who makes his money scrapping in country lanes. His raw talent comes to the attention of a trainer looking for new blood with “killer instinct” in the ring – something he believes his own son – the gym’s superstar – is lacking.
Dane Samson (Ryan Clayton) looks the part, but is to his father’s frustration is too distracted by his personal life, including the impact of his mother’s death, to reach his full potential. Although open about his sexuality to those around him, rumours in the national press start to unnerve the gym. The testosterone-fuelled bravado between George and Dane doesn’t mask the sexual tension for long; and with George still in the closet and Dane contemplating his own public outing by tabloid, they begin a secret relationship.
The actors play additional characters around the two boxers that flesh out their world convincingly. Ward takes on the comic relief of the casual hook-up and the nervous energy of the gym’s old-school, seen-it-all training assistant. Clayton, quite unexpectedly, shines as George’s traditional Irish Catholic mammy. All secondary characters that could easily fall into two-dimensional stereotype, the pleasing thing about Gypsy Queen is each one has the potential to surprise and elevate the storytelling without cliché.
Meriel Pym’s set is a simple changing room bench which the actors manipulate to set additional scenes. This works well and makes clear the physical transformation between characters.
Gypsy Queen is a funny and touching drama, and is a rare thing in that it neither patronises its audience when addressing its Serious Issues, nor is gratuitous in its strong language or sex scenes (and there’s a fair amount of both). It is a well-paced and well-considered play that benefits from a great on-stage chemistry between Ward and Clayton, and gives its audience plenty to contemplate on the way home.