[author-post-rating] (3/5 Stars)
Ever since Quentin Tarantino’s Raging Bull we’ve known boxing stories can be about a lot more than just boxing. Snuff Box Theatre’s Bitch Boxer sits somewhere between Tarantino’s classic and Billy Elliot. Holly Augustine marks a boxing ring on the floor in chalk and fills it with her powerful and multi-dimensional performance. Occasionally crossing into clown territory, her face contorts into multiple expressions and states of bafflement at the eventualities of her life.
In many respects this is a coming-of-age narrative, a young woman learning to cope after suffering a life-altering loss. Boxing is at the heart of Chloe’s relationship with her dad – it’s the way he’s taught her to deal with the world and, naturally, it’s what she focuses on after he’s gone.
Chloe is a woman in the male-dominated boxing arena, yet despite its title Bitch Boxer doesn’t really seem to comment on this. She may be a character who plays with gender stereotypes, and this is enhanced by Augustine’s John Godber-esque performance, but it primarily uses the boxing ring as an arena to deal with the punches that life throws us. For all her Olympic gold dreams and talk of the first time women are allowed to box at the Olympics, Chloe’s journey is essentially that of learning to be in a loving relationship with a man and to deal with the death of her father.
I like the way emotions are spun into physical effect – problems to be dealt with, as Chloe tells us, in the local Leytonstone way – but at times I found the narrative style slightly jarring. We are pulled rapidly in and out of scenes from Chloe’s story, located through lighting and music changes that make the technical team worthy of praise. Loud music abruptly cuts as a scene shifts; in the latter half of the play this works, but earlier on it feels a little too jumpy. Overall it feels as if the pacing of the first half of the narrative isn’t quite right.
Augustine clearly has a strong talent for storytelling: she’s totally engaging, funny and endearing. The performance is well-directed by Bryony Shanahan who makes clever use of space, and is obviously capable of bringing out the very best in her performers. Narratively, however, I felt there is something not quite right, which I think is caused by a gap between content and subject matter. I’m not saying the play has to be a strident feminist piece, but it feels as if woman in a man’s arena angle is simply a structural vehicle for this highly praiseworthy bildungsroman: there’s more to be said on the bitch boxer element, I just wonder if this narrative has room for it.
Bitch Boxer played at Brighton Fringe and continues its tour of the UK until 24 May. For more information and tickets, visit the Snuff Box theatre website.