WILDGOOSE Theatre director Andy Love makes a self-deprecating joke in his back-page programme note for the York premiere of Cornermen.

He came to Oli Forsyth's rites-of-passage drama knowing absolutely nothing about the boxing world, and after seeing how he has directed his production, "you will be wholly justified in thinking that I still don't".

He is wrong there, but he went on to make a much more significant point: "What I do believe is that most stories, most plays, have two things at their heart: conflict and change".

Boxing, of all the sports, is theatre, not in the way that wrestling's exaggerated grapples pertain to pantomimic theatricality, but in its concentrated drama inside the ring. Conflict in its rawest form, made brutal by George Foreman, beautiful by Muhammad Ali.

For York company Wildgoose's first show of 2017, Love chose The Basement at City Screen, with its metal frames, low ceiling and compact floorspace to evoke a ring-side view, further enhanced by tables and chairs that recall the chicken-in-a-basket dinner and boxing bills of the past.

Meet Mickey, Drew and Joey, the Cornermen: three journeymen boxing trainers in the 1980s seeking the next kid with the magic fists that might change all their lives with his prowess in conflict. Each is attired in white shirt, black tie and dark trousers, a uniform that enables them to play additional characters, like the bouncers in John Godber's Bouncers. Each shares the narration too, breaking down theatre's fourth wall to address the audience eye to eye.

Mickey (Alexander King) does the business deals; arranges the fights; looks to maximise any commercial opportunity. Drew (Martyn Hunter) is the gnarled old pro, not above below-the-belt tactics such as "juicing the gloves"; Joey (Claire Morley, hair tucked inside a woolly hat) is the nervy one, always giving cautionary advice, jesting, but sometimes pushing it too far.

They spot Sid Sparks – a great name for a boxer who happens to be an apprentice in electrical repairs too – as he shows promise at an amateur night and so begins a journey that will take him all the way to a British welterweight title bout.

Sid (Joe Sample) is steely eyed, taciturn, sometimes surly, often truculent, and so conflict will not only be in the ring but in his relationship with his team too as he changes on his upward trajectory and both he and they begin to find themselves out of their depth.

Sample's Sid is shown training, skipping, breathing heavily between rounds, and feeling worse for wear after nights out, whereas the boxing bouts are seen through the eyes and exclamations of the Cornermen, but you still feel every punch and then wince in response.

Drawing on his own boxing experiences, Forsyth's play evokes not only Bouncers but also Sixties' kitchen-sink dramas, rather than Rocky movies and Boy's Own stories, and Love's cast mines the physical drama, the blunt humour, the friction, the desperation, the fear, all the better for being encountered so close-up.

Morley adds to her repertoire of endlessly diverse roles, both female and male; Hunter's Drew benefits from his voice of experience; and King's Mickey has a ruthless, restless energy that bursts through the smooth front. Sample's performance? He's a knockout, but why would Sid risk everything with an unlucky one magpie as his only tattoo?!

Cornermen, Wildgoose Theatre, The Basement, City Screen, tonight and tomorrow at 7.30pm; Seven Arts, Chapel Allerton, Leeds, Friday, 7.30pm. Box office: York, goo.gl/4HY8Gr; Leeds, sevenleeds.co.uk/events