At the beginning of Bitch Boxer, a young actress sprinkled white chalk on the ground to create the square of a boxing ring. The disembodied voice of a ring announcer declared the start of a fight to determine which woman would represent Britain in Olympic boxing. The pumped young fighter then proceeded to tell us what had brought her to that moment. What followed was an hour-long performance of astonishing power and emotional intensity. This superb one-woman show was the best production I saw at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
Bitch Boxer was produced by Old Vic New Voices, an initiative which supports theatre professionals aged 18—30. Charlotte Josephine both wrote and performed the play and Bryony Shanahan directed. As the 2012 Olympic Games in London were the first Olympics in history in which women were allowed to compete in the sport of boxing, a play exploring the psychology of a young female fighter from east London was well timed.
The show’s venue at the Fringe, the Underbelly Cowgate, suited the material perfectly. The austere setting, with exposed pipes and corrugated iron, suggested an underground boxing club. A chair, a gym bag and its contents were the only props, which left ample space for the powerhouse performance.
Charlotte Josephine was utterly convincing and captivating as Chloe Jackson, the titular boxer. During the hour-long play, her energy never flagged. The emotional rawness of her performance consistently brought a lump to my throat. But what impressed me most about Josephine’s characterization was its complexity. She showed us the strength and tenacity of her character, but also the vulnerability underneath. I believed Chloe was a tough and determined fighter with serious street cred. But I also saw that she was a daddy’s girl, and a young woman who carried a great deal of pain, which drove her addiction to boxing. Absorbing and heart-rending.