Theatre | A fight for their lives

DUELLING DUO: Brothers Pacharo and Gideon Mzembe play boxers and refugees in Future D. Fidel's powerful Prize Fighter. Picture: Dylan Evans
DUELLING DUO: Brothers Pacharo and Gideon Mzembe play boxers and refugees in Future D. Fidel's powerful Prize Fighter. Picture: Dylan Evans

THE casting of brothers Pachero Mzembe and Gideon Mzembe as boxers and refugees from Africa’s Congo republic in the play Prize Fighter was appropriate, as both have developed boxing skills and moved to Australia at an early age with their parents from another troubled African country, Malawi.

Prize Fighter was written by Future D. Fidel, another African who fled the civil war-stricken Congo as a child in 1996 after being separated from his family.

He spent eight years in a refugee camp in Tanzania, learnt about his mother’s death in 2001, and when he was reunited with his sister in 2004 sought and was given refugee status by Australian officials, with this country having been his home since 2005.

While Fidel escaped being forced to be a child soldier in the Congo, he has met other refugees who were, and included many of their experiences in Prize Fighter.

Asa, the central character played by Pachero Mzembe, was a brutally-treated child soldier and, while doing boxing training or fighting in a match, often loses concentration as he recalls the things that happened to him.

Future D. Fidel works for Brisbane’s La Boite Theatre Company, which staged this, his first full-length play, at the 2015 Brisbane Festival.

It won rave reviews and attracted large audiences, and had the same response when performed at the Sydney Festival in 2017.

The production is now on a national tour, with performances at Newcastle’s Civic Theatre from September 19 to 22.

As the story is set in and around a boxing ring, the Civic planned to stage it at the Tuff’N Up Boxing Gym in Newcastle West.

But the gym’s operators announced at the end of June that loss of business caused by loss of parking as part of the light rail construction had forced it to close.

So Prize Fighter is now being staged in the Civic, with front rows of the stalls and part of the stage being removed so that the ropeless boxing ring can be set up there, with audience members seated around its four sides. And, in the 15 minutes before the show begins, those coming into the venue will see a boxing rehearsal taking place.

The production has six actors, with most playing multiple roles. The cast has won praise for bringing together dark and light-hearted incidents, and Margie Brown-Ash, who, like the brothers, has been part of the cast since the show’s premiere, has had those seated around the ring laughing and smiling at the practicality of her gym-owning boxing coach, Luke.

Prize Fighter has 8pm shows on Wednesday and Thursday, September 19 and 20, and 6pm and 8.30pm shows on Friday and Saturday, September 21 and 22. Bookings: 4929 1977.