REVIEW: TOM MOLINEAUX (Jack Studio Theatre) ★★★★★

Tom Molineaux is a new play by Tom Green, which takes place in London in 1810 around a crude boxing ring. The two characters are of very different backgrounds, and spend much of the play verbally sparing with each other.

The first of the two characters was the well known sportswriter, and writer on popular Victorian culture, Pierce Egan. The real Egan’s comical monthly publication, Life in London, was one of the popular sensations of its day. However, in this story, any financial gains from his writing were being frittered away on that most gentlemanly of pastimes, gambling on horses. Egan is thought to have influenced popular culture when he introduced, into his monthly publication, two characters, Tom and Jerry.

The play opens with Tom Molineaux, an already famous bare knuckle fighter, on his arrival in London, from the United States. Molineaux was an ex slave who was said to have “fought his way to freedom”. He proved an instant success in Britain where his style of fighting and his confident attitude made him an instant star. London society was obsessed with prize fighting and also with this new, exotic, pugilist who was expected to become a new British champion. Not that the reigning British champion, Tom Cribb was going to be a pushover, but no one can go on for ever. However after two controversial failed attempts to take the title, Molineaux began to lose some more of his bouts. Finally he was rejected by the British public. It proved a hard fact for him to accept. Some years later, after a period in debtors prison, he died a pauper.

Tom Molineaux was brilliantly played by Nathan Medina, a fine actor who looks very realistic when throwing and receiving air punches, very aggressive. Nathan is built like a boxer, muscular, square shouldered and tough. Pierce Egan was portrayed by the excellent Brendan O’Rourke. Egan’s sophisticated, funny, character is much more nuanced than the tough, aggressive, Molineaux and yet he somehow perfectly balances their friendship.

This wonderful sporting play runs in five venues in and around London. It’s last performance will be on the 3 June at the Jack Studio Theatre. Please see it if you can. A beautiful story, perfectly written by the talented Tom Green and featuring two fine actors on the top of their game. You will not have to be a sports fan to appreciate this, just a lover of humanity.

Reviewed by Graham Archer
Photo: Timothy Stubbs-Hughes