Mighty Atoms could very well be a metaphor for Hull itself. The play, the final part in a trilogy held at Hull Truck as part of its Roots and Routes season, is heavily influenced by boxer Barbara Buttrick who became world champion in 1950. This was clearly a huge and almost unbelievable feat, considering how women were slotted into ‘preferred’ passive and reliant gender roles. Women’s boxing, as one can imagine, was thought of as “monstrous, degrading, disgusting, repugnant and wrong” and to not only become hugely successful in this sport but to additionally have the power and determination to fall outside of strong societal conformity itself is basically, bloody amazing. Hull too, knows a thing or two about rising up and proving people wrong. Few believed it could be a serious contender for City of Culture and yet here it is, six months in and already on its way to displaying a remarkable cultural legacy. Mighty Atoms tells its audience that Hull is a place of hope and for those born here to have personal success, leaving isn’t a necessity. The city has transformed itself into a buzzing, exciting place that has implanted huge inspiration especially into those that didn’t think they could ever achieve anything – just like Buttrick and just like the characters in the play. This is an exceptionally strong message that could very well change the lives of young people watching Mighty Atoms. Context is key were this staged in London it is unlikely it would carry the same power. As a native ‘Ull-ian’, I felt a shock of adrenaline as I watched.
Written by Amanda Whittington, the story focuses on seven women in present day Hull with one, Buttrick (Kat Rose-Martin), a presence from the past. Taylor (Caitlin Drabble) was a contender for London 2012 but now lives back in her hometown after her life fell apart and has reluctantly agreed to lead a boxercise class in Nora’s (Judi Earl) pub. Remarkably different but united in their varying feelings of defeat, migrant Aneta (Maya Barcot), single mum Lauren (Danielle Henry), newcomer Jazz (Olivia Sweeney) and hard-nut Grace (Anna Doolan) all find friendship, hope and huge stitches under the leadership of the ex-Olympian.
Grace Smart’s set is simple and intimate whilst also giving the impression of considerable space. The pub is a dingy one but there’s a strong feeling of community and power running consistently through it – like an electrical current. Ella Robson Guilfoyle’s movement direction is stunning as it combines specific boxing technique (very informative) and surprising but welcome additions of dance that the cast perform with skill and grace.
Mighty Atoms gives its audience some powerful stuff. We feel the characters’ inspiration and we leave wanting to change the world or, at least, ensure our lives are as good as they possibly can be. The dominance of women in the cast is extraordinary but it shouldn’t be so, it just should be. All are fantastic as they combine very real heartache with spot-on comic timing. The delightful inflictions that come with the Hull accent are pulled off expertly and raise much laughter from the audience.
There’s much about transitioning here. Whether it is in a very real sense with regards to sex and gender or growing up, finding importance in yourself, rather than worrying about what others think of you; and of reaching the end of a very difficult journey. Most of all however, Mighty Atoms places unity and acceptance at the forefront, making a very bold, very exciting statement.
Mighty Atoms played at the Hull Truck until July 1.
Photo: Karl Andre Photography