Chloé is locked out in Leytonstone in only her jimjams. Finding a neighbour in, she tackles the fences between their garden and her own. No problem. Her upper body strength is excellent, what with her being a boxer'n'all. It's when she has to face the dog that it all goes a bit tits up.
Bitch Boxer is a terrific underdog tale of determination, pluck, and swishing ponytails, but in the end it's most powerfully about grief.
The opening scene sets the pace nicely for this one woman play, as we meet Chloé (Charlotte Josephine) a 19 year old street-savvy girl with a dream: to win gold at the London Olympics. After all, it's practically on her doorstep. It must be a sign, mustn't it? And it's the first year that they've allowed women to box too. It's all looking peachy for this Leytonstone babe: Even her love life with the delightful Jamie, a try-hard boyfriend she met in a nightclub ominously called Destiny, is going well.
But, as we all know, when life is turning out this peachy (especially on the stage – or in EastEnders), something is bound to come along and deal a low blow, and Chloé gets the lowest blow of all. Her dad dies suddenly and her world is turned upside down – not that she lets it show on the outside. She's back in the gym the day after and hides her tears at the funeral even though her mates are "waiting around for her to crumble." Showing the working class equivalent of the stiff upper lip – bravado – inside, she's just a little girl who wants her dad.
The set is sparse. At the very beginning of the piece, Chloé sprinkles a square of sand around the stage, delineating the ring, but also drawing us into the conceit that life is a stage, and that stage is more often than not like a boxing ring, full of combat and struggle and winners and losers.
The lighting is minimal, with some scenes being played out in semi-darkness. The music too is barely there, except for the use of Eminem's Lose Yourself, which Chloé mimes and dances along to – 'You only get one shot, do not miss your chance to blow, This opportunity comes once in a lifetime, yo.' It's her song.
Josephine, with her lopsided smile to match her lopsided hair, plays the feisty Chloé as a ball of energy and determination. Pumped-up and sweat-slicked, she seems invincible, all London patois and cockiness. Effortlessly switching from the 'so he said, so i said, so he said, so i said' gabble of the modern teenager to a tender poetic monologue, and from Chloé herself to her gum-chewing trainer Len, here is an actress who can electrify, startle, and satisfy all at the same time.
Her face is a picture of adolescent angst - one minute cocky, the next shy; one minute knowing, the next baffled; one minute ecstatic, next in the pit of misery - but it's the physicality of her performance that's even more overwhelming. Josephine bounces around the stage, only to suddenly come to a dead halt, noisily catching her breath, simply looking the audience in the eye, waiting for us to catch our breath too.
Bitch Boxer is a terrific underdog tale of determination, pluck, and swishing ponytails, but in the end it's most powerfully about grief. After her big boxing bout, Chloé ends a beautiful verse monologue with the simple and simply heartbreaking - "I wish dad was here." But it's her ability to, albeit reluctantly, express that grief that makes you know that she's probably going to be OK in the end.