Reviews for Take the Space's production of White Feather Boxer

Eastbourne Herald

Reviewer: Roger Paine

Brighton-based ‘Take the Space’ chose Devonshire Park Theatre to stage the world premiere of a new play written and directed by Siobhán Nicholas.  No stranger to Eastbourne, where her plays ‘Hanging Hooke’ and ‘Stella’ have been highly praised in recent years, this latest explores the twin themes of pugilism and pacifism. 

Here the pugilist and pacifist is Jimmy (Chris Barnes) who in 1967, is 71 years old and running a boxing club in London’s East End. Jimmy’s prodigy, who he is training in the noble art, is Jo {Polly Jordan}, a 16 year old girl determined to succeed in her chosen sport, “When I box I feel like a person”.

Despite difficulties at that time for women of any age becoming boxers, Jo is encouraged by Jimmy and embarks on a gruelling training regime.  The stage is dominated by a large punch-bag on which Jimmy teaches her ducking and weaving, straight lefts, right arm jabs and a thumping uppercut.  But it soon emerges that the unlikely duo have many similarities.  Jimmy becomes the father Jo never knew; Jo becomes the son or daughter Jimmy never had.

Woven into this scenario is the story of Jimmy’s life.  A conscientious objector and ambulance driver in World War 1, imprisoned for his pacifism.  These experiences, and being branded a coward, a white feather was the token given by girls to young men who, for whatever reason, refused to fight, have left Jimmy permanently scarred.  This trauma, and his gym in World War II being used to shelter Jewish ‘kindertransport’ children fleeing Nazi Germany, adds another dimension to his life which has been dominated by the expression “Keep Your Anger In The Ring”.  Alongside this is Jo’s own anger.  At her drunken mother and boyfriend who, when he attempts to abuse her, she seriously beats up using punches she has learned from Jimmy.

Jo’s discovery of Jimmy’s boxing champion’s belt, Army medal and love letters, in a suitcase is a poignant highlight.  The story, which encapsulates several inter-related historical topics, could be the subject of a full length novel. Instead, this is a sensitively-crafted play providing unique and thought-provoking theatre.