It’s Sunday morning and I am late for my first day of wrestling school. Very late. Guided by a handwritten sign that reads ‘Secret Girl Gang Clubhouse’, I finally find the home of EVE: a punk, feminist, women’s pro wrestling collective. Inside, a group of women are powering through number 145 of 150 squats. I sneak in for five and share a ‘whew, glad that’s over!’ look with the girl beside me. Last night, I watched our wrestling trainer Rhia ‘The Fighting Irish’ O’Reilly body-slam a woman through a table at an EVE match, so pissing her off isn’t an option.
I needn’t have worried. Outside the ring, Rhia is a sweetheart, as is her colleague Greg Burridge, a lucha libre trainer and a dead ringer for Tom Hardy. They are here to turn us into wrestlers. And that, it turns out, starts with forward rolls.
After the fitness warm-up, we start a tag team of roly polys: exactly the kind you did in the playground. High-drama rolls, Greg explains, are a key part of wrestling moves, and we have to start somewhere. Then it’s on to a round of stunt-drop-style shoulder rolls. Form is important here, so Greg has a few tips to help us remember: ‘Kick the Oompa Loompa with your left foot and slay the dragon with your left arm. Oompa Loompa, dragon, got it?’ It’s a fiery blend of cabaret, panto, self-defence, stunts and athletics. But it’s also a lesson in confidence. And that’s why each of us has been given just two minutes to develop a wrestling character.
Public speaking is my hell, but by the time my turn comes around I’m in the ring shouting ‘I am Khunty McRage, I’m an angry Irish feminist bringing down the patriarchy ONE MAN AT A TIME’. I sound ridiculous, but this is the safest of safe spaces, and it feels good to command a room, even when it’s fiction. Like so many women, I wasn’t brought up to embody a big, loud, don’t-mess-with-this presence. But at EVE, you can smash those gender expectations into a pulp. See you in the ring, bitches.