At the end of last year Charlotte Briant had an epiphany. Tired after a 12-hour double shift in the coffee shop where she worked, she was shifting heavy boxes into a cupboard when a co-worker made a comment.
“You know when you’re tired and for some reason it affects you more than it should do? He made a comment about me being strong, and about me being able to chuck these boxes into this cupboard.”
That momentary exchange sparked off a fruitful thought process for the 22-year-old playwright and actor from north Islington.
“I was inspired to write a monologue, a bit of a rant, about how in order to be attractive as a female you’re supposed to be little and light and feminine and so on. And how actually most of us have got an aggressive side that isn’t shown in society – and the fact that I was strong enough to chuck these boxes in the cupboard…”
A few days later, Charlotte heard the news that the upcoming Olympics is the first in which women will be allowed to compete in boxing. It felt like fate.
The gloves are off
Charlotte is now well into the process of writing her new play Bitch Boxer – about a young female boxer, Chloe, training for the 2012 Games – and has made the shortlist for the Old Vic New Voices award. Run in conjunction with IdeasTap, a funding body for up-and-coming talent and aimed at emerging actors, directors, writers and producers, the initiative will take five new shows to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in August. It offers not only financial but also creative support.
Having slogged it out in coffee shops since graduating from East 15 Acting School last June, winning this prestigious award to perform at the celebrated Underbelly venue at the Fringe would be “a massive big break” says Charlotte.
And what was it about female boxing that particularly grabbed her? Charlotte is interested, she says, in the rarity of women who box. And she’s not wrong. Women continue to be under-represented in sport and people are generally far more likely to associate them with football or even rugby than fighting. Boxing champion Amir Khan, an Olympic silver medallist in 2004, went as far as saying that “women shouldn’t fight.”
Charlotte believes that this misogynistic viewpoint is influenced by how we perceive traditional gender roles. She says: “They think that it’s not very ladylike to be a boxer, which is one of the issues that I’m writing about in my play. People will think that it’s not attractive for a female to want a fight, and actually it’s really admirable that these women are really strong physically.”
Since January, Charlotte has immersed herself in the world of boxing for research by taking up the sport three times a week at Islington Boxing Club. She says: “It’s helped me so much. I didn’t want to write about something that I had absolutely no idea about, and there’s a whole community in the boxing world – I didn’t want to do it a disservice.”
Charlotte has also noticed similarities between boxing and her own career in theatre. She says: “If you want to do something you’ve got to prove you can do it. There is a similar mentality of really fighting for what you believe in.”
And what if she doesn’t win? There is one consolation: “I’ve got really into boxing which is not a sport that I’d even considered ever before in my whole life – and I’m getting quite good at it.”
Perhaps Islington Boxing Club can bank on her visits for a while yet.