I want to prove to the whole world that I’m worth something.
Charlotte Josephine’s one-woman monologue about a young boxer training for the London Olympics won the Soho Young Writers Award in 2012. And I can see why. Josephine packs an awful lot into the 50 minutes she’s on stage – not only is it about boxing, putting in the training, and what it means to be a female fighter, there’s also grief at the loss of one parent, anger at being abandoned by the other, and the joys and frustrations of first love.
As Chloe Jackson, a 21-year-old from Leytonstone, Josephine holds our attention throughout in an intensely physical, authentic performance (Josephine trained as a boxer in preparation). When we first meet Chloe she’s been locked out of her house, and she breathlessly recounts her efforts to get back inside so she can get her kitbag and make it to training on time. Right from the start, Chloe addresses the audience like we’re her friends; it’s an open and honest performance that has us rooting for her all the way, especially when her father (her first coach) suddenly dies, leaving her alone and her future in the ring in jeopardy. As Chloe tells us that she couldn’t cry for her father and even returned to training the day after his funeral, we find ourselves experiencing the emotions she refuses to acknowledge as she determinedly buries herself in training – grief, pain, shock. We can see how fragile she is, even if Chloe refuses to let herself crumble.
Josephine also shows that she has a talent for humour, as Chloe falls for Jamie, a boy with ‘well nice teeth’. She brilliantly evokes all the awkwardness and embarrassment of first love – Jamie walks in on her as she’s lip-synching to Eminem’s Lose Yourself (her reaction is to blush and call him a ‘dickhead’) and apparently his feet are ‘minging’ – but also the joy, for when she speaks of him there’s a light in her eyes, she’s cheeky, and bewildered at the thought of being liked by a boy. We want Chloe to be happy, and yet at the same time we are nervous for her: she describes love as ‘a sucker punch’ and something that ‘makes you feel sick’. When, a moment later, she says ‘fighters don’t get sick’, we know that she will again sacrifice herself for her sport.
Apart from a few over-worked lines (flowers lying in ‘crisp cellophane coffins’), and an opening section that’s perhaps slightly too long, the writing is strong throughout. Particularly powerful is the penultimate section, Chloe’s final qualifying fight, in which the syncopated rhythm builds and builds in tandem with each round, and the poetic nature of the text is at its most apparent. The apt choice of Eminem earlier on becomes clearer, as the influence of hip hop and rap on Chloe’s speech patterns shines through.
The use of sound throughout is spot on, as is the minimal use of props – just a chair, a bag, a skipping rope and some chalk to mark out the ring – and lighting. All put the focus squarely on Josephine and she is utterly compelling throughout. Her performance is so physical that, at the end of the fight, she slumps in the chair, drenched in sweat, and we can literally see the steam rising off her. Having been on this rollercoaster with her, we feel almost as exhausted.
Chloe is a boxer because of the sense of calm it gives her when she’s been forced to be a fighter ‘all her life’; because of the rush of adrenaline; because it’s an addiction. Josephine has created a wholly believable young woman, someone to whom life has dealt a series of blows, but who just wants to be allowed to ‘get on with things’. Oh, how we want her to succeed.