Energy pumps and fizzes through 'Bitch Boxer' and 'Bottleneck', two one-person plays about teenagers on missions that transfer to Soho Theatre after success at last year's Edinburgh Fringe.
In the former, Chloe (Charlotte Josephine) is determined to compete at London 2012, the first Olympics to include women’s boxing, and just a stone’s throw from where she trains with her dad in Leytonstone.
In the latter, Greg (James Cooney), a young Scouse footie fan, has his sights set on a match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest. It’s not until he’s stolen money for the ticket, run away from home, hooked up with his asthmatic best mate and wormed his way to the front of the overcrowded stadium that you realise the match is in Sheffield, this is 1989 and Greg is about to become caught up inthe Hillsborough disaster.
Josephine’s own ‘Bitch Boxer’ (apparently ‘Million Dollar Baby’ was already taken) is the better play, given choreographic clout by the writer’s fists-on research, and with a funny, insightful script that breaks into little flurries of hip hop poetry as Chloe works through her conflicting passions and rolls with life’s considerable punches. ‘Chin up?’ she scoffs when her estranged mum tries to console her. ‘Nah… it’s chin down, fists up.’
The voice of 14-year-old Greg is perhaps necessarily less fully formed in Luke Barnes’s ‘Bottleneck’, and the early parts of the play pinball the cheeky protagonist repetitively between scraps at school and spats with dad. But the scenes in Hillsborough stadium are a masterclass in creeping, choking tension.
Two spirited performances, two complementary explorations of budding love, sudden death and the youthful commitments that can steer us through – and two irrepressible teenagers who, shat on by life, prefer to leave the tears to the audience. Bella Todd