Delicate Flowers written and directed by Mark Rees of Single Story Theatre Company tells the story of Barbara Buttrick, a Hull woman who has rapidly risen to iconic status, through the telling and re-telling of her achievements in women’s boxing. Born in an era when women were expected to play the good housewife, have tea on the table, look pretty for their man, Barbara proved with her determination and fighting spirit, that women should be allowed to box, finally winning the Women’s Bantamweight Championship. ‘Not bad for a girl from Hull’ says Karen, a young boxer inspired by Barbara’s story
The play opens with a recording of Barbara’s voice, a forthright line immediately conveying her character from which the title of the work was derived.
Kat Rose Martin who plays Karen, is utterly convincing as the single mum fighting for a better life for her and her child, facing inequality and lack of opportunities in the modern day. Barbara’s story is woven inside that of Karen, with Karen finding the inspiration and encouragement she needs, from Barbara’s courage and no-nonsense attitude. The two stories running parallel works well and allows the audience a better understanding into what motivates both women past and present.
The familiar shape of the ring is taped out on the floor and the action takes place within. Kat has undergone a number of months training for the role of Karen, she is in peak physical condition and has a commanding stage presence: she boxes like she means business.
There are moments of humour and stinging emotion in the writing, the women in the audience laugh at the idea of Karen coming from a long line of ‘gobby’ women, then showing her vulnerability, she relives the moment when the baby’s father reject her and the baby. The tone shifts gradually throughout the play, beginning with boxing as nothing more than side show spectacle, later through the press articles of the day the full extent of the scorn and criticism Barbara faced is revealed. The emphasis changes again with the line ‘ boxing is beautiful’ highlighting the aspects of self -control and discipline, finally we have the words of legacy… ‘building blocks of women’s boxing’ further cementing Barbara’s achievements in the minds of the audience.
Purposefully taking the show to non-theatre venues in a twenty day run Single Story have sought to reach new audiences with Delicate Flowers. The local story has meant that the shows have gone down extremely well in schools, community centres and church halls across the city. The play was included in the Women of the World Festival supported by Hull 2017, where Barbara Buttrick was a guest of honour, being inducted into a women’s hall of fame referred to as The Trailblazers.
At the festival showing the show was proceeded by a training/dance sequence choreographed by Jo Ashbridge featuring pupils from St Mary’s School. The inclusion of the school pupils reinforces the inspirational story behind Delicate Flowers and symbolism of passing it onto the next generation. The final performance was suitably held inside St Paul’s Boxing Gym with the boxing club community and Barbara and her family in the audience. The family gave their approval to both the handling of the story and to Kat’s knockout performance.
Delicate Flowers and particularly Kat Martin’s powerful performance, have been well received by audiences, however there has been a caveat usually along the lines of… ‘I don’t like women boxing, I don’t like men boxing,’ but she’s really rather good isn’t she.’ It would seem that despite Barbara’s efforts and that of double Olympic Champion Nicola Adams, boxing for both men and women remains a contentious subject.
Delicate Flowers will not be the only re-telling of Barbara Buttrick’s story Hull Truck Theatre are to present a play called The Mighty Atom as part of their 2017 programme.
‘She’s not far off becoming a mighty atom herself.’
‘She’s just awesome.’
‘Completely owned the story of Karen.’
‘Shows you can achieve from any background.’