On The Ropes reviews – Park Theatre ★★★

Reviews are in for boxing docu-drama On The Ropes at the Park Theatre in London.

Written by Dougie Blaxland and Vernon Vanriel, with direction by Anastasia Osei-Kuffour, the show is about 70’s & 80’s black British boxer Vernon Vanriel and his 13 year battle for British citizenship, despite living in North London for 43 years.

Mensah Bediako (Driving Miss Daisy, Much Ado About Nothing, Invisible Me) plays Vanriel alongside Ashley D Gayle (Henry VI: Rebellion, Edward IV in Henry VI: Wars Of The Roses) and Amber James (Wendy & Peter Pan, Snowflake) who play various characters.

The creative team includes Zahra Mansouri (set & costume), Holly Ellis (lighting), Gareth Fry (sound), Peter Rickards (production manager), Harry Blumenau (casting) and Gaby Nimo (choreography). 

On The Ropes runs until 4 February 2023 at Park Theatre, London.

Average Critics Rating

On The Ropes reviews

The Stage

"Absorbing and infuriating"

"The human cost of the Windrush scandal is explored in an absorbing and infuriating, if sometimes sluggish, autobiographical drama"

"Mensah Bediako as Vanriel is the solid centre of the production, a formidable figure slowly weakened by diseases. But it’s Ashley D Gayle and Amber James in multiple roles who add pep and texture to the piece."

Natasha Tripney, The Stage
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The Telegraph

"This tale of a Windrush boxer isn’t light enough on its feet"

"Vernon Vanriel’s stirring story of injustice ought to be a snappy bout but drags on for nearly three hours"

"Anastasia Osei-Kuffour’s production gains richness perversely thanks to its supporting cast. Ashley D Gayle and Amber James vivaciously play an expansive gallery of often roguish characters, with James in particular bringing sparkling versatility to Vanriel’s God-fearing mother, several furious girlfriends and his devoted sister Blossom."

"One wishes, too, that the script floated more like a butterfly and stung like a bee. It hits all the notes you’d expect but rarely bothers with specificity."

Claire Allfree, The Telegraph
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The Evening Standard

"A story worth telling, but no knockout"

"the stylistic flourishes of Anastasia Osei-Kuffour’s production – staged, naturally, in a boxing ring with the surrounding audience encouraged to hoot and cheer - frequently impede rather than illuminate the action."

Nick Curtis, The Evening Standard
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"Moving autobiographical drama about Vernon Vanriel"

"It is an unquestionably powerful drama, not least because it’s true. But stuffing someone’s whole life into two-and-a-half hours doesn’t always work. There is not enough scope to get to know the secondary characters in Vanriel’s life with enough detail or heart. The script often feels like it’s reeling off a selection of dates and happenings, rather than giving us engaging theatre."

Anya Ryan, TimeOut
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The Times

"No knockout punch in this boxing docudrama"

"The scenes of his confrontations over his immigration status are harrowing, though, as is the scene where, living rough in Jamaica, he fears he is about to be shot out of hand by a policeman who treated him as a mere inconvenience. Such scenes sit uncomfortably alongside the knockabout humour elsewhere. Another draft or two would work wonders. In the meantime, we are left marvelling that Vanriel had taken all those punches and survived."

Clive Davis, The Times
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"Windrush boxer’s tale of triumph and tragedy over 12 gut-wrenching rounds"

"Vernon Vanriel’s extraordinary battles with addiction, poverty and the Home Office are brought to life in a big-hearted if overlong show"

"Ultimately, this is an important story to see on stage but one that might have been better enacted in shorter, punchier rounds."

Arifa Akbar,
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The Observer

"The story of Windrush boxer Vernon Vanriel hits home in song"

"It is an important story and it exerts a grip; it deserves more incisive treatment. Anastasia Osei-Kuffour’s production is not tough enough with the episodic, all-inclusive script: it straggles."

"And no one could fault the shape-changing talent of Amber James as she shifts in turn from being pious mother to jobsworth official to sweet, hip-swinging sister. When she lets the music out of her throat you want her to sing the whole action. What a blues ballad that would be."

Susannah Clapp, The Observer
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Daily Mail

"Needs to shed some weight"

"Dougie Blaxland’s lumbering script, written with Vanriel, actually makes him less sympathetic by being too uncritical..."

"Where Anastasia Osei-Kuffour’s production works best is as a community event celebrating a local legend on his home turf in north London. Played as 12 rounds in a boxing ring with Ashley D. Gayle acting as MC, it’s also a semi musical performance leavened mostly with reggae music, including Oh Mama and a stirring gospel number Nobody Knows But Jesus — both sung brilliantly by supporting actor Amber James.

Patrick Marmion, Daily Mail
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👤 📅12 January 2023
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📷 Main photo: Amber James and Mensah Bediako in On the Ropes at London's Park Theatre. Photo: Steve Gregson

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