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U Theatre’s “The Sweet Science of Bruising” Takes On the Hidden History of Women’s Boxing

Sweet Science Of Bruising

TheUniversityofUtahDepartmentofTheatreis thrilled to announce the next show in the 22/23 season: Joy Wilkinson’s The Sweet Science of Bruising.ThisproductionrunsFebruary17throughFebruary26intheBabcockTheatre,andis described as follows:

Inspired by the real history of women’s boxing, The Sweet Science of Bruising takes placeduringanerawhen“respectable”competitionsforfemaleathleteswerevirtually nonexistent.In1869London,aneccentricpromoterrecruitsfourverydifferentwomen to fight for the invented title of “Lady Boxing Champion of the World.” As they train and compete in underground bouts, all four find unexpected freedom and solidarity in the “sweet science” of boxing. The championship soon becomes a prize with life- changing potential, but in 19thcentury England, the most fearsome opponents lie outside the ring—and they play by a different set of rules.

The Babcock Theatre has seen its share of staged combat over the years, but never quite like this. Joy Wilkinson’s remarkable script calls for fisticuffs, and this production delivers, with boxing matches and fights staged by Fight & Intimacy Director (and U alum) Adriana Lemke. If boxing isn’t your bag, don’t worry: the intertwined lives of the four female contenders are the main event. Richly plotted and keenly observed, their stories range far beyond the arena and give audience members a variety of characters to identify with (and root for). Meanwhile, the setting provides a meaningful backdrop for political and personal issues — including income inequality, intimate partner violence, reproductive rights, bodily autonomy, and gender performance — that are just as urgent today.

In her foreword to the 2019 paperback edition, Wilkinson writes, “here we are . . . playing with the form of the period drama to put different stories onstage and ask questions about how we live now. How do we balance our drive to win as individuals with our need to connect and work together? Can we compete to be the best and still care for others? Can women create different power structures? Do we want to? Or are we all the same, men and women, winners and losers – single protagonists in our own stories?”

“This is the kind of piece that takes a whole community of artists to put up, which feels connected to what the playwright is celebrating,” says director Alexandra Harbold. “We’ve got three different rooms per night going on at the same time in rehearsal: dialects in one room, fight choreography in another, scene work in another. It’s about collaboration, working together to make progress, to take something from vision to reality. This idea of pitting people against each other as the ultimate end, where there has to be one winner and everybody else is a loser . . . [Wilkinson] challenges that. It’s a different model for victory, and for living.”


Principal cast members include Tristian Osborne (Professor Charlie Sharp), CoCo Berwald (Violet Hunter), Hannah Ekstrom (Anna Lamb), Dorothy Mayer (Matty Blackwell), and Taryn McClure (Polly Stokes). Additional cast members include LinaBoyer(Aunt George), AlyCarter(Nancy), BrandonErnst (Gabriel Lamb), Maggie Goble (Emily), Grayson Kamel (Dr. James Bell), True Leavitt (Referee, Dr.

Foster, Ensemble), LukeMorton(Captain Danby, Ensemble), and MichaelTirrell(Paul Stokes). Tessa Jones and Macey J. Shackelford are the principal cast understudies.

The Sweet Science of Bruising is directed by Alexandra Harbold, Co-Founder and Co-Artistic Director of Flying Bobcat Theatrical Laboratory and Assistant Professor with the Department of Theatre. Her recent directing projects include To Saints and Stars (Good Company Theatre), The Wreck of Queen Thomasina(Footpath Theatre/spit&vigor, NY), Liminal(with Robert Scott Smith, Studio 115), StormStill (Babcock Theatre), the online premiere of The Night Witches (U of U Virtual), and Ronald and Edith (The Fairy Story Society & Flying Bobcat, Great Salt Lake Fringe Festival).

Joining her on the creative team are Scenic Designer Nikayla Starr Nielson, Costume Designer Mae Hinton-Godfrey, Lighting Designer MeghanGibson, Sound Designer SummerStevens, Prop Designer Anna Blaes, Wig and Makeup Designer Samantha Wootten, Fight and Intimacy Director Adriana Lemke, Dramaturg Laurel Morgan, and Choreographer Constance Anderson, with Stage Manager Savannah Gersdorf.

Joy Wilkinson is a playwright and screenwriter whose plays include The Sweet Science of Bruising (Southwark Playhouse, 2018); Acting Leader (Tricycle Theatre, London, 2010); Fair (Finborough Theatre, 2005; Trafalgar Studios, West End, 2006); and Felt Effects (joint winner of the 2004 Verity Bargate Award, Theatre503, 2006). TV credits include Doctor Who and BBC1’s critically-acclaimed NickNickleby. Joy’s directing debut Ma’amwon Bumble’s International Female Film Force Award and several other emerging talent awards as part of its festival run. She is currently lead writer on the hit Netflix series Lockwood & Co.