BITCH BOXER played as part of the Sydney Fringe and was performed in one of the tiniest rooms of the Erskineville Town Hall.
The stage is not much bigger than a boxing ring, the athlete is within touching distance… it’s close enough to see the scars.
Not the broken nose or cut eye of a traditional boxer but the insidious psyche-rending damage of gender, class and loss. Ambition and talent will get Chloe into contention but her primacy will depend entirely on well scabbed emotional hurts.
Chloe is 21. She is a female boxer who is up for the London Olympic Women’s Boxing Team. She lives in Leytonstone, spitting distance from the proposed venue. Her dad, an ex-boxer himself, has channelled her aggression at the departure of her mother into the sport. And there is a love interest who makes her feel soft and safe despite herself. Rounds are won but love, familial and romantic, might be the sucker punch that sends her plans to the mat.
Written by Charlotte Josephine who originally played the role herself, BITCH BOXER owes its heritage to some blokes who heckled Josephine for being unladylike when she lifted some heavy boxes at work. It is a one person show which could be a one note exercise in showing off … but not in the skilled hands of Alice Birbara and director Victor Kalka who are on their way to being a formidable creative pairing.
Birbara excels in this kind of intimate drama. Her command of the physical elements, movement, accent, physicality are consistently reliable but the reason I so enjoy her work has only a little to do with the visceral. The emotional choices this artist makes to bring depth to her character are rigorous, subtextual and revealing. I have seen BITCH BOXER half a dozen times and what I enjoyed most about this particular production was the clear and redolent voices of two Chloes.
In Birbara’s rendering one can tell that real world Chloe is quiet, somewhat shy, with a reserve sometimes manifesting as coldness. Even when drunk or felled by emotions such as love or loss. But she is not like that with us. The Chloe who makes eye contact with each member of the audience and shares intimacies, fears and passions is alive, engaging and brutally honest.
To us she is happy to intimate that she aspires to be a ‘liberated, fucken accomplished woman … a female superhero”. That shit would not wash with those around her for sure. We know because Birbara gives us the other characters as well. They speak in Chloe’s voice with no change of eyeline and no exaggerated performance tricks. We see what Chloe sees and Birbara’s unfussy use of tears and of steel allows an audience to feel what Chloe feels.
She can be charming, like when she speaks, softly and embarrassed, of nuzzling with love interest Jamie who obviously adores her. She can be funny and the artist’s choice to endow the boxer with genuine surprise when people laugh with her is lovely character work. She can be hurt and the depth of those wounds … hits that have made this athlete so driven, so insular, so hidden … are gently and subtly expressed. Damaged shadow boxing.
The venue does hamper this production though. The feints and jabs that are shorthand to boxing verisimilitude are difficult here and I especially missed the skipping that is so integral to theatrical representation of the art of boxing. However, no light changes, unpretentious use of a few targeted sound effects and the sense that the BITCH BOXER is constantly moving to avoid the blows landing does give a dynamic, fluid, propelled production.
Unfortunately BITCH BOXER has now concluded its season as part of the Sydney Fringe but hopefully there will be more Kalka/Birbara projects in the future.