Stuntman @ Summerhall

Impressive physical work meets tenderness in this exploration of masculinity and the theatre of violence

Review by K Lane | 10 Aug 2023
  • Stuntman

Lights up on the DANGER ZONE, a small square stage that's equal parts boxing ring and film set, designed by Rachel O’Neill. This is Stuntman, and deviser-performers Sadiq Ali and David Banks are re-enacting a series of over-the-top action movie fight sequences. “See you in hell, motherfucker…”, boom, kill shot. With cartoonish deaths and an arsenal of prop weapons, they give the impression of young boys playing pretend.

David is a boxer and MMA fighter who grew up on a diet of action movies and lied about his age to begin his combat sports training sooner. He made his straight-to-DVD debut as a film stunt double at 15, in exchange for a handsome 50% discount off the film he still hasn’t watched. Sadiq wanted to be a dancer. He’s scared of being hit and has never been in a real fight, but he knows he’s got the look of an action star.

The show zips rapidly between anecdotes, stunt fights, and dance sequences. We return multiple times to retellings of the same stories, which gradually morph from action-movie bravado to much more honest reflections on bodily destruction and, ultimately, fear. Fear of the self, fear of other men; fear of the body and of what it can do. We're reminded of Barbara Kruger’s work and the line it draws between ritualised violence and men’s lack of access to physical touch.

The physical elements of the performance are simply breathtaking. In the stiflingly hot space of TechCube 0, we are close enough to see the sweat pouring off the performers. At times the space feels a bit small for the choreography as they tumble and cartwheel perilously close to the lights. The goofy, gory violence (complete with sound effects) is interspersed with tender touch and brief moments of check-in and negotiation. There is no attempt to conceal the deep trust needed for this sort of stunt work. The scripted elements are a little less robust and at times feel heavy-handed; nevertheless, the performers’ charisma and sincerity effectively carry Stuntman to a strong finish.

Stuntman, Summerhall (TechCube 0), until 25 Aug (not 14, 21), 5.50pm, £15