It's shocking to be reminded of the brutality of racism in 1980s London. When the white working class Charlie (Nigel Lindsay) the thug who runs the south London gym (where Roy William's play is set) calls his black charges 'boy' we know it is the norm. And when he disowns his daughter for 'fooling around' with a black man he is only expressing the common codes of decency.
For the black lads themselves, lighter skinned Troy (Anthony Welsh) feels safe in calling his darker skinned pal, Leon (Daniel Kaluuya), 'rubber lips'. And both of them comfortably jibe the other about being a 'batty man' - the stab that made some last night's audience laugh too. We may remain stony faced a racist epithets, but for some of us homophobic taunts still a source of humour. This is a world of pecking orders based on brute violence, where white is right and status comes in the shape of a flash motor.
For we are in Thatcher's Britain during the Brixton riots - a bleak urban back drop of racial violence. The play's sweaty gym is a microcosm of all the fear, hatred, despair and crass materialism that's being played out on the streets.
Sucker Punch investigates two opposite ways of surviving this brutal landscape. Leon (played by the brilliant, charismatic Kaluuya) keeps Charlie on board to train and manage him, which for Troy is a sell, He is far more radical and violent than his friend. Troy escapes to the States and becomes represented by a black manager. Unlike Leon, Troy feels he's no Uncle Tom.
Yet, both are victims. For this play explores the ideological quagmires that trap young, disaffected black men. The lads are exploited whether they have white managers or not, whether they live in the UK or not. The superb metaphor of Leon being unable to untie his own hand bandages express his real powerlessness.
When Troy and Leon finally fight in the spectacularly staged, slow-motioned climax - Charlie's words resonate, "wre we are, the mostly white audience, enjoying the awesome spectacle of just such an encounter - two dark, bloodied bodies in ecstasies of pain and exhaustion smashing the living daylights out of each other. It is thrilling. And sickening.
Interesting to note that this most bloodied and masculine of plays was brought to life by two women - staging by Miriam Beuther and direction by Sacha Wares.