On The Ropes, Park Theatre


The Home Secretary continues to try to sweep the Windrush scandal under the carpet: thanks to works like co-writers Vernon Vanriel and Dougie Blaxland's play, this national disgrace won't be allowed to go away.

Vernon was brought to Britain as a six-year-old in the early 60s. He went to schools in Tottenham and, despite playing the class fool, qualified as an electrician. His real love (and talent) was boxing and he made his mark by winning the Haringey Schools Tournament, quickly attracting the attention of promotors.Islington Gazette: Mensa Bediako as Vernon VanrielMensa Bediako as Vernon Vanriel (Image: Steve Gregson)

His career blossomed and he became a contender for the British Featherweight Championship. Known by fans as the Entertainer, he pressed for the white dominated cartel running the game to be opened up.

For his trouble, he was ostracised and his career nosedived. Getting involved with very iffy characters, he developed a serious drug habit and was diagnosed bi-polar. Relationship breakdowns and homelessness followed.

He travelled to Jamaica to see a son from an earlier relationship, and stayed for two years. Attempting to return he found that his leave to remain in the UK had expired.

It took 13 years of campaigning (and his destitution) to overcome the harsh bureaucracy and brutality of the Home Office.

Told over twelve rounds on Zahra Mansouri's boxing ring set - surrounded on four sides - On the Ropes is a celebration of Vernon’s tenacity and determination while reflecting the fight that has been his life.

It movingly mixes poetry, dance, drama, brilliant live Reggae and Blues music that demands the audience join in, and some wonderfully raw humour.

Mensah Bediako plays Vernon with dignity and sensitivity, while Ashley D Gayle and Amber James (both amazing talents) are the Chorus – creating a multiplicity of characters to drive the narrative energy of a piece that is intelligently directed by Anastasia Osei-Kuffour.

There are bleak episodes and cruel violence over the two hours, but also much laughter and an uplifting redemption that had audience members in tears. Anyone wondering what a “Hostile Environment” looks like should get along to Park Theatre.Islington Gazette: On The Ropes runs at Park Theatre until February 4.On The Ropes runs at Park Theatre until February 4. (Image: Steve Gregson)

On The Ropes runs at Park Theatre until February 4.https://parktheatre.co.uk/whats-on/on-the-ropes/about