New Voices in Edinburgh

As part of the giddy, hectic and slightly insane experience that was my first fringe, I was lucky enough (thanks to IdeasTap) to catch all five plays that made up the Old Vic New Voices Edinburgh season at Underbelly. This is just one example of what seems to be a growing trend towards curation within the uncurated, amorphous bubble of the festival; other models along these lines include those adopted by Escalator East to Edinburgh and Northern Stage at St Stephen’s. While the hit and miss nature of the fringe is part of its quirky charm, there is something quite comforting about having these reliable miniature programmes to retreat to through the haze of clumsy adaptations and misplaced whimsy.

The emphasis of the Old Vic New Voices programme is, unsurprisingly, very much on “new writing”. The pieces are small, with a bias towards monologues and two-handers, but the writing and productions all proved themselves to be solid and often exciting. The whole season was, as Edinburgh goes, a pretty safe bet, though without the safeness of subject matter that implies. The advantage of a curated programme was also in seeing how these different pieces refracted through one another, experiencing them both as standalone plays and as part of a wider context.

If they have a future life, which I suspect they will, it would be fascinating to see these plays reformulated into double bills. Chapel Street and One Hour Only would be my top pick for a pairing, but Bitch Boxer and Strong Arm could also make a fascinating juxtaposition. While Edinburgh can easily become a distorted blur of production after production, seeing pieces whose placement alongside one another actively informs their reception is a refreshing and intriguing exercise. Here are a few more of my thoughts on the programme …

Glory Dazed

While his friends come home in coffins and wheelchairs, Ray knows that war can make you lose something other than life or limb. Returning to Doncaster with frustrated aggression and tortured memories, the only thing that Ray is any good at these days is fighting. But there’s no memorial service or prosthetic aid for being messed up in the head. Read more …

Bitch Boxer

Every fighter has a reason.

That’s the thinking behind this new show written and performed by Charlotte Josephine, taking a particularly timely dive into the world of female boxing. Read more …

One Hour Only

AJ’s mates have bought him a banging present for his 21st birthday – quite literally.

Out of place in a classy London brothel, the gift he ends up with is Marly, a cash-strapped student in her first night on the job, with whom he has more in common than he expected. Read more …

Strong Arm

Sporting ambition and athletic excellence are high on the national consciousness as the country continues to ride the wave of Olympic success. When competitiveness goes up a weight class into pure obsession, however, that same determination to succeed becomes altogether more disturbing. Read more …

Chapel Street

On Chapel Street, “every week it’s shit”.

Same people, same bars, same drinks. Or so we’re told by Joe and Kirsty, both out on a Friday night and each with their own reasons to seek oblivion. Through these two characters, Luke Barnes’ viciously funny and quietly devastating two-hander sketches out a searing, booze-stained portrait of the Pro-Plus generation, grabbing at their next energy kick while putting off tomorrow. Read more …

 

Bitch Boxer, Underbelly

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Originally written for IdeasTap.

Every fighter has a reason.

That’s the thinking behind this new show written and performed by Charlotte Josephine, taking a particularly timely dive into the world of female boxing. Chloe has wanted to fight ever since a family betrayal fractured her world, but in the lead up to the London 2012 Olympics – the first Games in which women can compete in boxing – two events once again shift the ground beneath her, tripping her footwork.

With a rough sort of poetry, pounded out to the rhythm of punches, Josephine offers us a glimpse into Chloe’s chalk-outlined world. This is more about the individual at its heart than the sport in which she competes, but boxing forms a constant background drumbeat and a language through which to understand life. For Chloe, romance is a winding “sucker-punch of love”, an emotion, like grief, that she can only understand in terms of a knockout blow. Emotion, in this male-dominated world, feels like a weakness.

Beneath the fighting mentality that permeates Chloe’s character, however, there is something surprisingly tender and charming about this piece. Much of that charm radiates from Josephine herself, who somehow makes an activity inherently reliant on two parties – red corner and blue corner – work as a solo show. Hopping from toe to toe and pacing restlessly around the space, she rarely loses the coiled physicality of the boxer, but she also melts into moments of sudden, startling softness; reading a note from boyfriend Jamie, or smiling at a memory.

The other surprise of the show is its humour. From miming deadpan to Eminem, to a gag about Tesco that will never let you read the slogan “every little helps” in quite the same way again, the piece packs as many laughs as it does punches. Ultimately Bitch Boxer is, like the odd affection inspired by real boxing champion Nicola Adams, a reminder of the very human side of a sport often characterised by aggression. For all that the fighting thrills, it is the moment when a closed fist unfurls into an open hand that is the most compelling.

Photo: Jassy Earl