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Interview with Ashley Cook from Sweet Science of Bruising

Jessica Regan, Bruce Alexander and Fiona Skinner - Photographer Mitzide Margary
Jessica Regan, Bruce Alexander and Fiona Skinner – Photographer Mitzide Margary

Based on historical research into 19th-century women’s boxing, The Sweet Science of Bruising is a fascinating new play by Joy Wilkinson (Verity Bargate Award winner). Featuring an ensemble cast and thrilling up-close boxing matches, this is an epic tale of passion, politics and pugilism.

Cast: Bruce Alexander (Professor Charlie Sharp), James Baxter (Paul Stokes), Sophie Bleasdale (Violet Hunter), Joe Coen (Gabriel Lamb), Ashley Cook (Doctor James Bell), Caroline Harker (Aunt George), Kemi-Bo Jacobs (Anna Lamb), Alice Kerrigan (Emily), Jessica Regan (Matilda ‘Matty’ Blackwell) and Fiona Skinner (Polly Stokes).

Ashley Cook (Doctor James Bell) chats with LondonTheatre1.com

Q: How has producing and being in the cast come about?
Ashley: The honest answer is budget! We have a cast of 10 and breaking even on the Off West End is a challenge. Putting myself in the show meant we were able to save on an actor and pay for other things. That said, I am actually an actor and I would only ever cast myself in a supporting role. It’s all too much of a headache otherwise! It’s got to be a part you’re right for too. Kirsty Patrick Ward (the director) and I discussed this carefully and we only went forward with it when she was 100% happy. I would only ever do it with the director’s full support. It’s their show.

Q: What is at the heart of the production?
Ashley: Essentially, it’s the story of four pre-suffrage women struggling against male oppression. Women did not have it easy in Victorian times and our leading female characters manage to find a way of liberating themselves socially, financially and politically by discovering women’s boxing.

Q: Can you tell us about your character?
Ashley: I play Doctor James Bell who is in love with Violet, one of the lady boxers. She’s not in love with him so it’s all a bit awkward really. He’s an academic and not really very good at reading people. Although he’s a bit of a pathetic character, he’s still great fun to play.

Q: Where are you in the ‘journey’ before Press Night?
Ashley: We are entering the final week of rehearsal so we’re in that exciting period where we’re piecing together all the hard work we’ve been doing and running the play. There are 26 scenes and we’ve had four weeks rehearsal so we’ve had to work pretty intensely. Our lady boxers have had lots of fights to learn on top of honing their characters, so there has been a lot to take on board. We’re really getting there and we just can’t wait to add sound and lights. It’s going to be a very special show.

Q: Set in London, 1869. Is this solely a historical piece – or with a contemporary significance?
Ashley: These characters are firmly rooted in their time and Joy Wilkinson (the playwright) has done extensive historical research in order to create the world of the play. However, I believe that anything we witness on a stage is always going to resonate with today in some way. The human condition is universal and the past speaks to the present. In the case of our play, women still have a long way to go to achieve true equality. We’ve come far in the last one hundred years but, as everyone knows, we’re not there yet, and men have to get on board with this too. The battle cannot be fought by 50% of the population alone. This comes through in Joy’s brilliant play and I hope audiences will see that. We’re not interested in museum pieces.

Q: Why should theatregoers get along to see The Sweet Science of Bruising?
Ashley: It’s an epic ensemble show that’s beautifully costumed, and sweeps through multiple locations, encompassing wonderful characters and stories with some pretty cool up-close lady boxing matches along the way.

It’s brilliantly written with a strong cast and it’s funny as well as being dark. Joy’s play is political but doesn’t bash you over the head. It invites you into a rich, colourful world and takes you on a thrilling journey. It’s also got FOUR female leads – what’s not to like?! It’s quite rare to find a new play that so fantastically epic and with such a large cast on the Off West End so catch it while you can! It’s going to be a theatrical explosion of the senses…


Troupe presents
The World Première of
By Joy Wilkinson

Directed by Kirsty Patrick Ward; Fight and Movement Direction by Alison de Burgh
Designed by Anna Reid; Lighting Design by Tim Deiling; Sound Design and Original Composition by Max Perryment


At Southwark Playhouse
3 – 27 October 2018
77 Newington Causeway, London, SE1 6BD


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