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Shem Hamilton as Leon and Christian Alfioe as Troy. (Photo: Manuel Harlan)

REVIEW: Sucker Punch, Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch (2023)

Sucker Punch is a knockout!


“When Chicken tie up Cockroach want explanation.”


Jamaican saying about the pecking order

Shem Hamilton as Leon and John Rogers as Tommy. (Photo: Manuel Harlan)

Roy Williams’ seminal play Sucker Punch has become a Modern Classic.  This superb play about young black boxers launched the acting career of Hollywood star Daniel Kaluuya when he was just 21 and he played Leon at the Royal Court Theatre.  Actors Daniel Kaluuya, Anthony Welsh and Jason Maza were trained for the part by the late British boxer Errol Christie.  The commitment to boxing training shows in this production at the Queen’s Hornchurch where Leon (Shem Hamilton) and even his father Squid (Wayne Rollins) can skip with a rope changing feet like the professionals.  The punch bags are not just a part of the set but in real use.  

The play is set in the 1980s in a dilapidated London gym owned by Charlie (Liam Smith) where he trains young boxers, Leon, Tommy (John Rogers) and Troy (Christian Alifoe).  Charlie has a teenage daughter Becky (Poppy Winter) who tries to get Charlie to pay attention to the business accounting figures but he is dependent on developing a champion to pay his debts.  

Liam Smith as Charlie and Ray Strasser-King as Ray. (Photo: Manuel Harlan)

Troy is lippy and rebellious but Leon is more law abiding.  In the 1980s Brixton riots, Troy gets into trouble and is caught by the police but Leon leaves him and escapes.  Memory of this abandonment will have repercussions for the future, and Troy leaves Charlie’s gym as a consequence.  

In Sucker Punch we are looking at the opportunities for advancement open to young black men through sport, and in this case boxing, before women boxers were recognised at the Olympics.  We see how the sport is structured with a few powerful boxing managers and promoters and how their sign ups are exploited.  Charlie is small time compared to this play’s Ray (Ray Strasser-King) who is American and based on Don King, known for his fur coats.  Ray steps over the ring ropes not through them like everyone else.  

Poppy Winter as Becky. (Photo: Manuel Harlan)

There is conflict and racism when Leon starts getting close to Charlie’s daughter Becky and Charlie gives Leon a clear choice.  Charlie is more of a father to Leon than Squid who is always broke, womanising and drinking.  There is excellent characterisation with Wayne Rollins’ feckless but likeable Squid and I was impressed by Liam Smith’s complete believability as the gym owner trying to hang onto the talented boxers. Charlie has problems with alcohol but his determined personality and growing relationship with Leon is the glue that grips us to the plot. 

Shem Hamilton shows great promise as an actor and the scenes with Christian Alifoe enliven the play.  Nathan Powell’s production runs without an interval. 

Sandra Falase’s design includes a boxing ring and there is exciting sound and pink, red and blue lighting from Josh Harriette.  Three people are involved in creating the fights and movement including Gary Cooke as the boxing coach.

The play culminates in an exciting boxing match with plenty of tension and the sting of pathos.  This play is on tour until 24th June. 

Don’t miss it!

Oh and I would invite Marnie Swindles the winner of The Apprentice 2023 to opening nights!

For the review of Sucker Punch at the Royal Court in 2010. GO HERE

Liam Smith as Charlie in the background and Shen Hamilton as Leon. (photo: Manuel Harlan)

Production Notes

Sucker Punch

Written by Roy Williams

Directed by Nathan Powell



Liam Smith

Wayne Rollins

Poppy Winter

Christian Alifoe

Shem Hamilton

John Rogers

Ray Strasser-King


Director: Nathan Powell

Designer: Sandra Falase

Lighting Designer: Josie Harriette

Sound Designer: Duramaney Kamara

Fight director: Enric Ortuño

Movement Director: Asha Jennings-Grant

Boxing Coach: Gary Cooke


Running Time: Two hours 15

minutes with an interval

Booking at Queen’s

Hornchurch until  15th April 2023

then on tour to 24th June 2023




Queen’s Theatre

Billet Lane


RM11 1QT.

Box Office enquiries:

Rail : Emerson Park

Telephone: 01708 443333

Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge at the

Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch on 1st April 2023

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