Sport and the performing arts have more in common than either of them probably likes to think. Both involve drama and conflict, both can create stars whose charisma attracts huge crowds, and both – as we have learned to our cost during the pandemic – depend for the full intensity of the experience they offer on the presence of a live audience, packed into the arena where they take place.
For Midlothian-born playwright Mikey Burnett, for example, boxing has been a passion ever since he was a child, watching late-night pay-per-view matches with his big brother. He feels plays are often structured like boxing matches; and he has made a short film, One Punch, based on an interview with the Scottish boxer Craig McEwan.
In this short Scotsman Sessions film, though, actress Tiana Milne-Wilson delivers Burnett’s short comic monologue The Southern Punch, about a female boxer who, on what should be a fun night out, hears one piece of sexist banter too many from a man at the bar. Burnett has already explored the life of a female boxer in his hit 2019 Fringe play In Her Corner, now being made into another short film; and The Southern Punch inhabits the same world, but with a light comedy touch.
Tiana Milne-Wilson grew up in Aberdeen, and was so much in love with theatre from an early age that she used to paint smiley faces on her toes, and make them act out melodramatic stories. At school, she became involved in amateur musical theatre; and when she left, she studied performance at North-East College, soon winning the chance to move to Edinburgh, and the degree course in acting and performance delivered jointly by Queen Margaret and Napier Universities.
“I loved that course,” says Milne-Wilson, who graduated in 2019. “It was so practical, and gave you such great opportunities to work with writers and designers and all the other theatre professions.”
Acting remains Milne-Wilson’s first passion, though, even though she graduated into a theatre landscape about to be devastated by the Covid pandemic. “Oh, I was really enjoying it,” she recalls. “I worked at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2019, and at Christmas 2019 I was in panto at Howden Park in Livingston, which was just fantastic fun. But then, the pandemic hit.
“To keep going, I’ve mainly been working – whenever possible – for a company called Inspire Workshops, which delivers drama workshops for children in Fife and Edinburgh. I absolutely love that work, and it’s been brilliant, over the past few weeks, being able to get back to working with the children again.”
During lockdown, Milne-Wilson has also developed an interest in the emerging role of intimacy co-ordinator, an advisor appointed to a stage production or film set to help ensure, in the aftermath of #MeToo, that actors are not forced into acts of intimacy with which they feel uncomfortable; and she is planning to take an online course with director Vanessa Coffey, leader of the Safe Sets movement in America.
Even as she prepares to meet the new demand for experts in making stage and film sets safe for everyone, though, Milne-Wilson still puts acting first whenever she can; and she jumped at the chance to record this new monologue by Burnett.
“I love the way Mikey writes,” she says. “I love the strength and directness of his dialogue; and when I first read The Southern Punch, it just made me laugh so much that I thought, right, I’ve got to do this. I think we’ve all been there, listening to sexist nonsense on a night out. But we don’t all have the skills to react the way this character does; and that’s what makes the story special.”
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