Touring – reviewed at the Half Moon Theatre, London
Oliver Sykes’ debut children’s novel is inspired by growing up as a keen amateur boxer in a single parent family on the breadline. Having long been a passionate advocate for underrepresented voices, Sykes brings his own personal experiences to the page in Alfie’s First Fight, which promises to be a cross between Jacqueline Wilson and Rocky Balboa. Crossing over from page to stage, Sykes has also adapted the book into a one-man show which he is currently touring to arts venues, libraries and boxing clubs across the country. We caught it on its stop at Half Moon Theatre.
Alfie’s First Fight sees 12-year-old Alfie on a mission to solve a mystery when his older brother Jacob mysteriously goes missing minutes before the biggest boxing match of his life. With a huge prize at stake, Alfie’s family can’t afford to forfeit the match so it’s up to Dad to stall the referee while Alfie goes in search of Jacob.
It soon becomes apparent that there’s been foul play from Jacob’s opponent, and things go from bad to worse when Alfie eventually tracks his brother down only to discover that he’s hurt his hand so badly that he can’t even get his glove on. Reporting it to the referee means the match being called off and two years of preparation down the drain, so there’s only one thing for it; tiny Alfie has to face his fears and take Jacob’s place in the ring. Can he beat the odds and topple the terrifying Boy Giant or will his first fight be his last?
It’s a fun story with plenty of heart which translates really well to the stage (and will undoubtedly work brilliantly in a boxing ring too). With themes that will resonate for many in the audience, it’s a very relatable tale featuring the sort of family that you don’t often see on stage. There is also a real depth to the story as Alfie battles not just with the baddies but with his feelings about his absent mum. With a plucky underdog to root for, and a mystery to solve, the narrative will appeal to children of all backgrounds while giving them an insight into the lives of others.
It’s brilliant to see underrepresented voices brought to life on stage by a writer and performer with lived experience of the subject matter. Sykes is an engaging storyteller who works tirelessly to build a rapport with the young audience from the moment he steps into the room. He gets the children involved in the action, gamely going along with their suggestions for moving the narrative forwards. His passion for boxing absolutely shines through, talking fondly of it being a family activity. If you enter with any preconceptions about boxers in your mind, they will quickly be shattered by this eloquent, thoughtful and gentle performer.
Overall, Alfie’s First Fight is a knockout production for young audiences which will inspire, entertain and educate. With plenty of bouts still to come, check the card to see if this promising upstart is heading to a venue near you.
Alfie’s First Fight played at Half Moon Theatre on 17 and 18 March 2023 as part of a tour. We received a complimentary press ticket to the 11am performance on 18 March.
Age recommendation: 5+
Image credit: Dawn Kilner