at Warwick Arts Centre, Tuesday 23rd April 2013
In the black box setting of the Warwick Arts Centre Studio, certain moments in Charlotte Josephine’s Bitch Boxer get highlighted more than they did when performed in the Underbelly venue at the Edinburgh Fringe last summer. At one point, our protagonist scatters colourful notes across the floor. Later, she streams out a long red handwrap and allows it to float to the floor. In a more neutral, inherently ‘theatrical’ space such as this, then, these gestures take on more currency, serving to accentuate the craftsmanship and counter the moments of raw emotion.
Performed by Josephine herself, Bitch Boxer tells the story of young boxer Chloe and the way she deals with the death of her father. The narrative begins the morning she finds out and ends as she completes a big fight, with anecdotes about training, trainers and her boyfriend Jamie. It is a story of a strong woman and the men absent from her life, as she learns to be successful on her own. It’s told pretty much uniformly in present tense, with events seemingly playing out as we go, even though they occurred in ‘the past’. The effect is that Chloe seems to be trying to kid herself about what’s happened to her, reliving each event as she goes and realising its significance.
This is supported by the structure of the show, which sees Chloe preparing for the final boxing match, sparring occasionally and equipping herself throughout the hour, reminding us that she’s remembering these events as she gets ready. A chalk ring is laid out as the lights go down, and everything then happens within these four lines, with separate corners or areas being reserved for discussion of a different character or theme. Josephine’s text, which is written as a sort of cross between performance poetry and monologue, finds rhythms and rhymes as she becomes more comfortable and finds her heart racing faster.
Some of the more touching scenes in Bitch Boxer come not from Chloe’s discussion of her dad but from her contemplation about her boyfriend Jamie. A subtle joke about fate occurs as she suggests that sometimes, it feels “like it was meant to be”, though she realises that’s stupid as they met “on a night out at [a club called] Destiny”. To us, his actions and treatment of her sometimes feels a little patronising and protective, but she speaks with such deep love and affection that there’s clearly a bond we can’t know about. In fact, all the men in her life treat her – to varying extents – with kid gloves, though her individual voice and drive allows her to pull away from this patriarchal world.
The metaphor of boxing as theatre runs throughout in Bryony Shanahan’s production, with audience doubling as spectators, the stage as ring and the kit bag as props cupboard. The most interesting link, however, is that both practices require those involved to be technically precise even though there is an element of improvising what comes next. There may be planned moves, but anything can happen.
Bitch Boxer is a punchy (sorry) start to Warwick Arts Centre’s (L)one Festival, which is set to showcase a number of solo shows over the coming months. The first four shows show singular female voices, whilst the back four are male, and the voice of Josephine will no doubt drive through all of them, as she rejects social structures which tell women how to behave. Her performance and charisma is completely captivating, and we will her on throughout to the extent that we wonder what happens to her after this hour. And I could watch that Eminem segment for hours.
Read my interview with Josephine here.