Libby Liburd
Jessica Mescall
Stratford Circus Arts Centre

Lee (Libby Liburd) and Tommy (David Schaal) Credit: Alex Brenner
Lee (Libby Liburd) and Tommy (David Schaal) Credit: Alex Brenner
Lee (Libby Liburd) and Alison (Cathy Tyson) Credit: Alex Brenner

Fighter is the imagined story of a woman’s fight to become a boxer in late '90s England. And that is no easy thing given the character Lee (Libby Liburd) is a single mother and faces the enormous prejudices against women in boxing.

The play opens and closes in 2019 at a boxing gym where women and men are training together, but for most of its length takes us back to the very male-only space of the same gym in 1998 which Lee is hoping to join. And why not, given the Amateur Boxing Association of England had lifted its 116-year ban on women’s boxing two years earlier.

But the trainer Tommy (David Schaal) is not interested. As he later tells his wife Alison (Cathy Tyson), “girls should be pouting not clouting.”

Trying to get rid of Lee, he explains to her that to be a boxer, “you need grit, determination and balls.”

“Well I’ve got two of them” she says and returns day after day till he agrees to let her join the gym. Not that being allowed to stay ends her difficulties. There is a matter of whom she can spar with in training and whom she can fight given so few women have broken into boxing. She is also expected to take a pregnancy test before a fight and we hear about the irritating proposal from the international boxing federation that women should wear skirts when boxing.

Fighter doesn’t shy away from the impact all this can have on family life. There is her six-year-old son’s worries about her occasional bruises from training and the teasing he gets in school about his mother being a boxer.

But the play is gentle and optimistic. There is a good-humoured, believable engagement between the three main characters as they grow in respect for each other, their story bringing to life the struggle to beat the absurd discrimination women faced in boxing.

Reviewer: Keith Mckenna

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