Roy Williams’ play, Sucker Punch tells the story of two young black teenagers against a backdrop of Thatcherite politics and the simmering racial tensions in the 1980s. Director, Nathan Powell tells Claire Lishman how the tale struck a chord with him and why he hopes the show will ignite conversations with audiences at The Lowry, Salford.
Just like policemen are getting younger, so, it would appear, are theatre directors. “I’m a ‘90s baby!” laughs 31-year-old, Nathan Powell when talking about the challenges of being a black man in 1980s Britain. “But I think there’s a very interesting conversation to be had between generations, and for black men in particular. My brother and my father were in London in the 80s when this play was set, and they had a tough time, and I think their experiences have been very different to mine.
“Sometimes the different generations would clash. But the story in Sucker Punch just brings it down to a very human level. It explores what it actually is that we experience as black men in this country. And it opens up a really useful dialogue between different generations of black people who grew up in Britain.
“The challenges now compared to the 80s are different but the same, if that makes sense? There’s a difference in terms of what we experience today looks like, but they’re the same challenges. And it’s all about how we approach those challenges.”
Sucker Punch which tours to The Lowry in May has been produced by Queens Theatre Hornchuch and funded by a consortium of theatres, including The Lowry. All the theatres in the consortium are part of the National Theatre’s TNP (Theatre Nation Partnership) which has been active for the last five years.
Sucker Punch is a first in terms of producing as a group. One of the main aims is create quality drama for regional venues, which is something that is very close to Powell’s heart: “I’m a Londoner who’s moved out of London and I live in Liverpool at the moment. I have a real commitment and drive to create excellent work outside of the capital. This Theatre Nation Partnership with The Lowry and all the other partners allows us to tour an amazing piece of work outside of London, and that’s really powerful. It’s very special to be able to share that with as many audiences across the country as possible and to celebrate talent from across the country. And that’s an incredibly important part of this project as well- we’ll be casting and recruiting the creative talent from all across the nation.”
Powell immediately knew that this project was a good fit for him. First, he’s a big fan of the play: “I love Sucker Punch. I think it’s such a brilliant piece.” And he’s also a huge admirer of playwright Roy Williams: “I think Roy is amazing at telling really detailed and intricate yet big and vast stories for everyone in the audience. He’s such a wonderful creator of characters, but also a great creator of stories. In Sucker Punch, the relationship between the two boys, Leon and Troy, is so well written. The picture Roy paints through Leon and Troy of being a black man in the 80s will clearly resonate with people today.”
Throw into the mix the fact that Powell is also a boxing fan – “I like to think of myself as a casual boxing fan, because real boxing fans will get angry if I don’t know the answer to a boxing question!” – and this is a bit of a dream project for Powell.
Roy Williams’ Sucker Punch is at The Lowry, Salford from 2-6 May 2023. Age guidance 14+