I haven’t been ringside since I attended a bout of World Championship Wrestling. That “sport” of course was totally theatrical, a silly pantomime of phoney biff but with a certain athleticism.

La Boite’s production of PRIZE FIGHTER at Belvoir is also totally theatrical, but with a more striking athleticism and a much more sober and sombre aesthete.

Isa is a Congolese refugee getting by in the ‘burbs of Brisbane as a boxer. Trained in the jab and duck by his brother, his killer instinct was honed as a child soldier, press ganged into service by the same guerilla gang that massacred his family.Under the tutelage of local trainer, Luke, Isa now has a shot at the national title, bringing the fame and fortune that will facilitate his search for surviving family members back in Africa.

Written by Future D. Fidel, who fled the Congo as a child and dwelt in a Tanzanian camp for eight years before being transported to Australia, PRIZE FIGHTER is a tough, taut and terrific piece of theatre, physically and emotionally captivating.

The device of alternating Isa’s present battle with an individual opponent in the ring with the characters from his past gives theatrical reality to the term “battling your demons.”

It helps that Pacharo Mzembe who plays Isa, is a boxer, as his sibling, Gideon, who plays a variety of roles including his title bout opponent. It gives a physical verisimilitude to the verbal testament of the text.

Thuso Lekwape is no slouch either in physical or verbal performance in various roles, nor is Kenneth Ransom as the dignified MC and referee, among others.

Margie Brown-Ash is a ball of brio as Luke – think Phyllis Diller training a killer – and Zindzi Okenyo does a terrific triple as sister, sweetheart and sparring partner.

Directed with fleet footwork, connecting upper cuts and a pummeling pace by Todd MacDonald, PRIZE FIGHTER fights for the prize of audience appreciation and engagement and wins on a TKO – Theatrical Knock Out.

PRIZE FIGHTER, part of this year’s Sydney Festival program, is playing upstairs at Belvoir Street until 22nd January.