Theatre review: Daniel Newton delivers a penetratingly nuanced performance in Shadow Boxing by James Gaddas

What: Shadow Boxing
Where: Baxter Masambe Theatre
When: May 4 to 21, nightly with matinee performances on Wednesdays and Saturdays
Tickets: R50 for group bookings to R120,  through Webtickets online at www.webtickets.co.za
Starring: Daniel Newton
Director: Mdu Kweyama

Shadow Boxing: An excellent play; excellent performance by Daniel Newton; excellent direction by Mdu Kweyama. There are a lot of “excellents” in there, I know, however this play took me by surprise. It is a pleasure to be treated to a superbly tuned script and then to see a young performer embed himself, deep in the narrative.  This (2022), is the first year that Newton, a UCT graduate is treading the boards as a professional actor. He finished his studies last year – 2021. This production recently premiered to acclaim at the 2022 Klein Karoo National Arts Festival (KKNK).

Newton told me after the performance, when I cornered him in the foyer (to stay with boxing lingo), that he stumbled on the play, some years back, when he was browsing the internet. One of his interests is boxing and YouTube threw up a clip of the play. He chased the rights and here is, in this one hander which has been widely billed as ‘coming of age gay play’ or words to that effect. It is a “about” a boxer who is following in the steps of his father, also a boxer, and apparently a failure. The young boxer is grappling with his identity, notions of success, dreams, hopes.  



In the hands of Newton and Kweyama, this production is much more than a ‘coming of age gay play.’ It taps into what makes us human; what drives us; what we expect from life; what we get and how do we process that all. It is beautifully poignant and tender play. Newton’s performance is pitched skilfully – containing rage, frustration, fear and sadness. In reviews of other productions of this play, it has been criticized as a monologue with displays of physical exertion- how many sit-ups an actor does- who cares. Boxing is certainly part of this production.  Physical theatre is an element but brute force is not the main character. Newton teases out the complexities of the boxer, reaching for champion status and then… I am not going to plot spoil. Newton told me that when the play was first staged in the 80s, it was seen as a protest play (gay rights, identity etc) and that the decision was made to tone graphic aspects down. That makes sense. We are in 2022 and this play ignites important prompts, such as: What do we expect and what happens in life? What does success mean and disappointment? How do we put it together in terms of family and people that we have intersected with?  .Newton is only 24 and this is a mighty impressive professional theatre debut.  

✳Image supplied.