Bitch Boxer is sharp, electrifying storytelling

Alice Birbara summons a bristling zeal for this one-woman show

Photography by Clare Hawley.

When I step out of the train and onto platform one at Erskineville station, it’s just past eight on a warm Wednesday evening. My train’s receding red light glitters on the curved tracks. I spring up two steps at a time. On my way to the Erskineville Town Hall, I pass a bright-lit flower shop window whose tall white orchids bow to me.

Fifteen minutes later I’m dripping into a small room with seven other people to see Bitch Boxer. Waiting for us is Alice Birbara, clad in black silk boxer’s gear and boxer’s shoes. She is hunched on a bench at the back of the stage and she watches us enter. The room stills and the play begins.

Bitch Boxer is a cast-of-one play which unfolds in a series of vignettes. One-actor plays are notoriously difficult; the performer in question must button down their own persona for the duration, and sustain an incessant stream of character work, lest their audience loses interest. But each vignette in this show is thrust upon us with such energetic control that at no point do I find my attention wavering. Birbara’s performance is athletic, delivered with a spartan rigour. Darting between multiple characters, fight choreography, and Charlotte Josephine’s sharp script, she holds the world of England’s North together seamlessly.

Birbara’s eponymous boxer Chloe is a young talent who has a chance to break out into the world of Olympic Women’s Boxing. Armed with little more than perseverance, she refuses to be held back by her circumstances, location, and even deep reverberations of grief. Instead she fights against these currents; a dedicated and fierce woman whose shot at a gold medal is within arm’s reach. These sentiments are underlined by the long shape of the room — Chloe is furnished with a wide area to break across, painting moments of intense training, profound loss, soaring victory.

With clever, stark sound design and a neat use of minimal props, Bitch Boxer hones in on Birbara’s expression, her dialogue, her every pose and gesture. Each member of the audience is addressed personally, intimately, as if party to a rude secret. By the hand of a rip-tearing script, and Victor Kalka’s canny direction, Birbara is thrown, sweating and punching, to a rousing finish. The lights go black, and we all applaud, and I slide out of the room.

Bitch Boxer sheds the chore of making obtuse political commentary. Instead it un-shoulders a heavy load at the audience’s feet; the world of women’s boxing works as a net with which to catch fragments of one woman’s experience. This is deft storytelling at its best. On the way home I let my mind roam across the beach of imagery conjured up by Josephine, combing through the things which washed up.

The same orchids nod to me as I pass, and this time it’s platform two. This time, there is a green light at the end of the platform and it casts a mellow glow on my notepad.