Raymond ‘Fight’ Beck
St James Cavalier

Teatru Malta have made it a priority to tell stories with a local connection, reflecting a particularly Maltese brand of humanity that resonates with audiences because of its grounding in reality. Its latest offering – Raymond ‘Fight’ Beck, based on a new original script by Andre Mangion, is set in the world of local boxing – a scenario that has had very little exposure in the arts scene and which I found to be very interesting given the clearly well-researched and sensitive insight that both the scriptwriter and director put into the production.

The performance is being held at St James Cavalier where the theatre-in-the-round lends itself particularly well to Adrian Mamo’s set and director Sean Buhagiar’s staging, with everything happening on a raised ring that doubles as the stage for the off-ring events.

Raymond Beck (John Montanaro) is enticed back into boxing after a six-year hiatus by Il-Gustuż (Zepp Camilleri), his boss and former coach, whose personal feud with the mayor (Peter Galea) pushes him to use Raymond as the ace up his sleeve. Raymond, who lives with his grandmother Tessie (Lilian Pace Vassallo) and younger brother Victor (Andre Mangion) accepts because the money is good – whether he wins or loses.

He is pitted against the mayor’s son, Dyson Cumbo (Davide Tucci), who is younger and more tenacious than most. In spite of his character’s unfortunate vacuum-cleaning name, Tucci created a very credible and strong opponent to Montanaro’s Raymond Beck, who was also excellent in his role.

His tough exterior masked a strong sense of responsibility and care for his elderly grandmother and sensitive younger brother. I thoroughly en­joyed Montanaro and Tucci’s performances as well as those of the supporting cast – from the village types Il-Lover (Hector Bruno) whose big mouth gets seve­ral people into trouble, and Il-Grillu (Jesmond Tedesco Triccas), who tries to be a tad too friendly with everyone.

Their performances brought a touch of comedy in an otherwise very serious plotline, as did Toni Busuttil’s Iċ-Ċalie, the firey-tempered cellmate to the Beck brothers’ father Ġorġ (Philip Mizzi).

Triccas, Bruno and Busuttil all have a great dynamic when it comes to comic timing, and the fact that they, along with Camilleri’s excellent Gustuż and Pace Vassallo’s Tessie, did the whole thing in a very authentic dialect, was all the more impressive.

Director Buhagiar made some great casting choices, including combining Tucci’s Dyson with Kim Dalli’s Blair Darmanin – the boxer’s unhappy girlfriend who becomes the focus of a terrifying turn of events.

Montanaro and Tucci were trained for the fight/boxing choreography by boxing coach Steve Martin and portrayed the tension of the match in a gripping manner.

The cast managed to portray the emotional tensions and ties that the characters had with each other, along with the darker side of competitive boxing, ranging from game fixing and illegal betting to personal vendettas and local politics. What was great to watch was the sense of loyalty and responsibility that Montanaro’s character and his associates have for each other – while still cynically looking out for themselves – all except for the brotherly love that is at the core of this piece. 

Buhagiar’s choice of having visual artist Jimmy Grima take care of the lighting design was as wise as his having Frank Zammit as MC/Radio host and Referee and local hiphop group Marmalja take care of sound and live original music; reminding me that in the Marmalja duo, there is my own namesake, who is a much cooler version than this literature nerd.

Raymond ‘Fight’ Beck is a great play to watch this weekend and definitely one that surprised me for both its originality in content and its fresh look at some strong themes.

Raymond ‘Fight’ Beck is being staged at St James Cavalier today, tomorrow and on Sunday at 8pm.

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