Review: All My Sons, Old Vic - a gripping emotional thriller (and a teary Colin Morgan)
Review: Fighter, Stratford Circus Arts - A single mum steps into the ring to fight for equality

Interview: Libby Liburd and Cathy Tyson talk Fighter, Stratford Circus - "The drama of a fight night coupled with the laughter of a comedy night".

"You'll get the drama of a fight night coupled with the laughter of a comedy night."

Fighter (Stratford Circus Arts) is the story of a single mum who decides to take up boxing. Set in a boxing gym with cast that includes young boxers, I asked writer/performer Libby Liburd and performer Cathy Tyson about the inspiration behind the play and what it's like to perform.

12) Libby Liburd Headshot 2 Credit Jon Holloway
Libby Liburd. Photo by Jon Holloway

Tell us a bit about Fighter and what inspired you to write the play?

Libby Liburd: Fighter is the story of Lee, who finds herself plunged into the world of boxing, and through finding herself in a world that doesn't yet embrace women in the ring, she finds her 'happy place' where she feels she belongs and is alive.

It's about literal and figurative fights and changing through challenge. Most of the show is set in 1998, which was super important for me as the late 90's was the era when women in Britain were finally able to fight.

Up until 1996, there was a ban on women boxing in the Amateurs and it was only in 1998 that the first professional women boxers were licensed in Britain.

So, that research, my own experiences as a boxer and conversations with our Ambassador Cathy Brown (the 2nd ever licensed Pro female boxer in the UK) inspired the story of Lee and her journey.

Why is a story like this important and why now?

Libby: I think theatre generally should tell exciting and unheard stories. Certainly, I think we're used to seeing boxing as an inspiration for theatre, but I've never seen the kind of story I'm telling in Fighter.

It's elevating themes of motherhood and womanhood but the story of courage, resilience and overcoming obstacles is universal. It's a story that everyone can relate to whilst at the same time, exposing a truth and aspects of history that we might not be aware of.

Certainly, when I'm speaking to people, they're shocked to hear that women were banned from fighting in this country until 1996 and yet by 2012, women were winning Gold at the Olympics.

That's a huge turnaround in a short amount of time. Rightly so, people are familiar with Nicola Adams and her achievements but I feel it's important to recognise the women that paved the way for this such as Jane Couch, Cathy Brown, Barbara Buttrick.

The story feels very 'now' as I think audiences have an appetite for something new that also elevates the experiences of women that came before us.

Emilia [Vaudeville Theatre until June 15] has certainly been a trailblazer for these kinds of themes.

Cathy Tyson

What drew you to playing Alison?

Cathy Tyson: I’ve not played many parts that are part of a relationship. I liked the relationship between Alison and her husband Tommy. They were affectionate and good humoured and well-written. I also love work that puts women at its centre. 

Fighter recreates an authentic boxing gym with boxers training, what do you think this will be like from a performance perspective?

Cathy: Setting the play in a boxing gym is exciting as it allows for movement on stage and that is always a good thing.

Boxing is about drama as well as precision and skill, but also the dedication and stamina needed for boxing training brings out qualities that audiences like to engage with, and are inspired by.

I have mixed feelings about the sport. I wouldn't ever want to actively hurt someone to win something and I’ve also got a thing about not hitting the head. So I'd enjoy/endure training but I wouldn't ever want to spar. 

How much did you know about women’s boxing and what are you looking forward to about performing in this high-energy production?

Cathy: I know very little about women's boxing. I did a film last year called the Fight in which I played a boxing coach.

I try to research every part I do so I did a bit of training in a gym in Bolton. Walking through those doors in 2016 was something else. I felt very self-conscious trying the sport in front of mostly men.

However, I was made to feel very welcome and encouraged. So the pioneers of women's boxing had to go through so much more than I did. 

For this performance, I’m looking forward to perhaps making a few people laugh. Knowing that the audience has had a great night out at the theatre. I’m also looking forward to hearing what peoples’ thoughts are about the production.

Last but not least, seeing how the young boxers in the show enjoy the experience. Their presence will bring an energy and possibly inspire young people in the audience to go for their chosen dreams.

Fighter by Libby Liburd (Credit- Kasia Burke)
Fighter by Libby Liburd. Photo: Kasia Burke

Why should people come to see Fighter?

Libby: Firstly, it's absolutely hilarious. Yes, there are themes of fighting and overcoming struggle, but my work is, at its core, joyous and celebratory.

We have a fantastic cast on board including the legend that is Cathy Tyson who I know from Band of Gold and she's also a BAFTA and Golden Globe nominee.

In the role of Tommy, we have David Schaal, an amazing actor who's best known as Jay's Dad in The Inbetweeners.

I play Lee and there is a cast of young boxers from Fight for Peace.

There is a mostly female team behind the scenes as well, so by supporting the show, you're supporting female creatives.

But, if nothing else, it's a great night out; you'll get the drama of a fight night coupled with the laughter of a comedy night.

It's an uplifting, exciting, high energy show and it's in Stratford, home of the 2012 Olympics, so it's a really special play. 

Fighter is at Stratford Circus Arts from 25 – 27 April.

Like this interview? Delve into the archive for more chat with writers, directors and performers.

And my review of Emilia (which is rather good) is here.