Terry Downes was a world middleweight boxing champion known in his day as the “Paddington Express”. James McNicholas, the sports writer, comedian and performer of this warm, touching one-man show, is his grandson. The Boxer is as much about his grandfather’s sporting career as it is about familial connection and the pressure to live up to someone like that.
At the start of the show, McNicholas inhabits his granddad, the London lad who moved to the US to live with his trapeze artist sister and went on to become one of the most successful fighters of the 1960s.
Then the tone of delivery shifts as he drops the accent and steps out of character to perform sections of stand-up about his own life as an actor (his biggest paying role to date was in an advert for Tuc biscuits) and to reflect on his grandfather’s successes and how he relates to them.
Having analysed the structure of boxing movies – they’re basically all the same, he asserts – his own show follows the same pattern. He talks about his honeymoon and how it led to his discovery that he had a neurological condition that in some way strengthens the connection between him and his late grandfather.
McNicholas is a decent actor and an amiable, engaging storyteller. There are points where the show touches on interesting ideas about masculinity and performance, but never really digs into them. It feints rather than swings. But, in true boxing movie style, it rallies at the last, ending on a surprisingly moving note.