Interview with Libby Liburd

Inspired by pioneering British female boxers who fought for their right to fight, Fighter arrives at the Stratford Circus Arts Centre on 25 April for a limited run. I spoke with writer and performer Libby Liburd to find out more about her latest show.

What is Fighter about?
It’s about a single mum, Lee, who stumbles into the world of boxing. It’s about how that changes her and how she finds her fight, literally and figuratively. It’s also very much about her coach, Tommy, and his evolution when he finds himself saddled with a girl boxer that dresses in the colour scheme of a set of highlighter pens. It’s about getting out of your comfort zone, changing and thriving in a place you never knew existed.

What inspired you to write the play?
I write from a starting point of lived experience. So, with me, I boxed – and always in proper old school ‘spit and sawdust’ gyms. When I’d go in, there would always be loads of men and few, if any, women. I wanted to know why that was. I didn’t have the idea straight away as I wasn’t even writing plays when I started boxing but when I did start to create my own work, the idea started to brew. I started researching the history of women’s boxing and out of that, came the inspiration for Fighter.

How did your own experiences of boxing influence the play? 
Loads! My experiences are the backbone of the play. I’m very attached to boxing, I love it. I was never the greatest boxer of all time but what I got out of boxing was so much more than just hitting someone else in the face (or in my case, mostly someone else hitting me in the face).

What makes Fighter relevant to today’s society?
If you watch any boxing film, you will find a ton of life metaphors. So much of what you learn in boxing can be transferred to life in general and Fighter is no exception. In terms of themes, it’s extremely relevant to what’s going on in society today; women are still very underrepresented in lots of areas and are still quite literally fighting to be seen as capable equals. However, it’s not just women – young people, particularly young men, are suffering from less than positive representations in the media at the moment. Fighter is a positive, celebratory play that packs a punch and challenges stereotypes.

Can you tell me more about your character?
I’m playing the role of Lee. She’s a single mum (like me) who ends up boxing (like me). But unlike me, she gets to say the things that you always wanted to say, and she somehow gets away with it. She’s vibrant, high energy, outspoken and madly determined. She’s great fun, flips the script and refuses to conform. It was important to me to write a character that’s a single mum who celebrates her motherhood; she’s not down trodden and she’s definitely no victim.

Describe Fighter in three words.
Boisterous, bold and honest.

What impact do you hope Fighter will have?
Mostly I’d just like people have a bloody good time watching it, to laugh, to cry and to feel uplifted. We’ve got a cast of genuine young boxers from Fight for Peace and so we’d be over the moon if young people seeing the play were inspired to start boxing training or get more involved in theatre.

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

Photo credit: Kasia Burke

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