Until You Hear That Bell is the first full length piece by Sean Mahoney, spoken word poet and alumnus of the Roundhouse poetry collective. It’s a short, sweet, autobiographical coming-of-age story about Mahoney’s career as a youth boxer, beginning with the first time his father took him to a boxing gym as a child and following his development into a promising young fighter.
While the events portrayed span ten years, the story is quite small-scale and, in a sense, unremarkable – there are no twists and no devastating emotional climax – so the whole thing hinges on Mahoney, and his lyrics, performance and on-stage personality. Which is no bad thing, because he is fantastic.
On an almost entirely bare stage, Mahoney is able to conjure both the sweat and drama and energy of a fight and the quiet pathos of an awkward conversation between a proud father and a son. His words are unshowy and perfectly judged, evoking the rhythms of boxing and training as well as the language of his characters, and Movement Director Helen Heaslip must deserve some praise for the way Mahoney uses his physicality – dancing, shuffling and dodging around the ring/stage with incredible energy and control. In one particularly impressive sequence, he creates something approaching a Rocky-esque training montage, condensed into about a minute with the aid of nothing but a skipping rope and his lyrics.
By the end the stage is drenched in Mahoney’s sweat, and he’s done such a convincing job of portraying a boy growing up that he actually seems to look older and more battle weary. I found myself oddly reminded of the film ‘Boyhood’ – just like that film, this is a piece of gentle storytelling about family, growing up, figuring out what you’re good at and making choices, elevated to something quite special by the way it captures the passing of time and the significance of small moments in a person’s life. That’s pretty impressive feat for a film – never mind for a sixty-minute one-man show.