Libby Liburd’s tale of a single mum who takes up Boxing is an awareness of the theatrics of boxing. The recent immersive Fight Night put the audience in control of the outcome, films like Creed and Rocky look at the men behind the gloves but Libby has found a niche in celebrating female boxing (Spoiler: She dies in Million Dollar Baby)
Liburd’s clearly passionate about boxing and the title Fighter isn’t just about Lee, her character, in the ring but Lee’s life as she justifies her interest to her son Jay Jay, who cannot bear to see his mother bruised and also her coach Tommy (David Schaal). In 1998, where the bulk of Fighter is set, Jane Couch has had to fight the Board of Control to be allowed to box in the UK and the nineties saw the emergence of a worldwide movement to make women’s boxing as professional and as admired as the men’s game with Women’s boxing being allowed into the Olympics at London 2012.
That is one of the issues with Fighter, the history of women’s boxing and the women who fought to box is so interesting that this rather basic story of a woman overcoming the odds doesn’t always work. Firstly I think the venue and staging just didn’t work. A play with a boxing ring needs to be in the round and Julie Addy’s direction really lacked the energy of a boxing match and even the young boxers from Fight for Peace couldn’t create that theatrics that boxing naturally provides. It manages to come close as Lee enters the ring but the decision to not show her fight is interesting, I can see why it was done but equally it feels like the journey we have been on is cruelly cut short.
The strength is that even though the story is a bit pedestrian the performances are very good.Tommy’s reluctance to let Lee fight is understandable but his passion for her when he realises she is a good fighter isn’t the most original concept but David Schaal is such a charming performer that is hard not to like him. Cathy Tyson as Alison, Tommy’s wife who acts as a voice of reason for her husband and Lee gives a really classy and warm performance, of a woman who could have easily fought in the ring if she hadn’t been dominated by the boxers in her life. Liburd is stunning in a monologue about a talk with her son’s teacher that despite the amazing cast involved I would have liked to have seen this as more of monologue that traditional play. It is the first time we get to see emotion, rather than bravado.
Ultimately it is nice to see a performer not hold back on her passion for boxing and not hold back on the pressures of being a single parent, not just the financial but also the emotional. Fighter offered a free creche on its matinee performance and as Libby says theatre isn’t doing enough for single parents, whether creatives or audience members, in a week in which Emilia held the West End’s first parent and baby matinee it is really important to focus not so much on the production but what theatre is doing to help others.