Edinburgh Fringe 2012
Charlotte Josephine’s thrilling and moving monologue about a young female boxer training to compete for the London Olympics is a dynamic exploration of the fighting spirit, the mirroring of life and sport and the character’s relationships with the mother she doesn’t like and the father who recently died. With skill and understatement, a sport which is so alienating to so many people becomes the basis for a character who one comes to care for.
Amongst the many historic and revelatory innovations of the London Olympics, apart from the realisation that being positive about our national successes was quite fun once in a while, was the arrival of women’s boxing onto the sports list. Charlotte Josephine’s play, one of a series of plays by emerging writers from the Old Vic New Voices scheme (which has now been nurturing future playwrights for a decade), takes boxing as its premise but not its point.
Chloe, who Josephine also plays, prepares for the fight that could see her entry into the home games and, as she does so, she reflects on the recent death of the father who inspired her, the animosity towards the mother who left the family when she was 11 and the breakdown of her relationship after her boyfriend showed his support by buying her a pair of trainers – a gesture which she couldn’t take. First through circumstances and then through choice, Chloe is a loner. “I’m a fighter and now’s my time to stand up and battle on regardless” she tells us. “There is no-one stopping me getting gold but myself” she declares in one of the many sport-as-a-metaphor-for-life moments which really hit home. Although preparing to go into the ring is the context, it is not really the subject of Josephine’s debut play. It is more about someone wanting to make their own decisions and live their own life.
Josephine writes in an appealingly authentic but unselfconscious way (“I shit you not” she says more than once) and the real heart of the play – the death of the father – is worn commendably lightly on its sleeve. Amidst the noise of her fight, towards the end, the blink and you miss it moment in which she says “I miss my dad” brings tears to the eyes. But the real revelation of the show is the performance, whose energy seems limitless (lip-synching to Eminem, skipping practice at a furious pace) but the sweat that glistens off her tells a different story. “You’ve got to fight for the things you love, Chloe” her dad had told her. When she fights she is not just fighting for herself but for him.
Bitch Boxer is a brilliant burst of energy in which the boxing is in service of the story rather than the other way round. Like One Hour Only (another of the excellent new plays presented in this Old Vic New Voices season) it is character all the way. And that is quite a feat. I shit you not.