Addressing the post-September 11th consequences, Pugilist Specialist (pictured), which was staged at the Pleasance Courtyard, presents the drama of the American military on the hunt for evil in foreign lands. Four highly trained soldiers have been assigned the task of eliminating a troublesome Middle Eastern leader. The play unfolds as a series of field recordings detailing the planning, travel, execution and mishandling of a modern political assassination.
Pugilist Specialist follows The Riot Group's previous award-winning successes at the Edinburgh Fringe festival with Wreck the Airline Barrier and last year's Victory at the Dirt Palace, a King Lear transplanted to the cut-throat world of broadcast journalism, which transferred at the start of 2003 to London's Riverside Studios.
As with other Riot Group productions, the new wartime drama is an amalgam of themes and sources bound together by intense, largely motionless performances and the stylised linguistic cadence of a young America, utilizing an array of literary influences, from Moby Dick to Marine Corp Manuals.
Founded in 1997, The Riot Group was originally conceived as a site-specific protest against the theatre department of New York's Sarah Lawrence College. In the first year, the company rehearsed in bathrooms and performed in basements, struggling to mount productions with no lighting equipment, no costumes and no budget. The minimalist constraints still inform Riot Group productions, all of which are written by Shaplin, with roles tailored for each individual actor in the collective.
The Fringe First Awards, established in 1973 and presented by The Scotsman newspaper in conjunction with the Fringe Society, are the annual festival's most prestigious recognition for new drama. Awards are announced weekly during the August event. This is the third year that an overall winner has been awarded First of the Fringe Firsts. Pugilist Specialist was so named out of this year's total of 15 Fringe First-winning productions (See News, 26 Aug 2003).
- by Terri Paddock