Inspired by the career of Hull’s own original “Mighty Atom”, world champion boxer Barbara Buttrick, Mighty Atoms places women and boxing centre stage. It’s the final part of The Hull Trilogy , a trio of plays examining how the city’s past has shaped its identity and capacity for survival and renewal.
Mighty Atoms is set in a struggling pub on one of Hull’s toughest streets, where ex-pro boxer Taylor Flint runs a women’s boxercise class. For Lauren, Jazz, Aneta and Grace, the class is much more than a way to lose weight and have a laugh – they’re fighting the grinding challenges of everyday life.
Barbara Buttrick, who inspired the play, is an extraordinary woman. She became a world champion boxer in the 1950s. This was a definitive feat, given social constraints placed on women at the time.
Playwright Amanda Whittington “discovered” Barbara Buttrick seven years ago, around the same time that women’s boxing was approved for the London 2012 Olympic games.
Amanda says: “I was drawn to both aspects of the story: Barbara as a pioneer for equality; and the 2012 Olympics as one of the last sporting hurdles that women had overcome. I’m also drawn to boxing as a metaphor. It’s so pervasive, we don’t even notice when we say we’re saved by the bell, out for the count or on the ropes.”
Of Barbara’s boxing, she adds: “It was an extraordinary act of resistance to prejudice, so her spirit, courage and sheer bloody-mindedness were a tremendous inspiration. I wanted to trace this through to present-day Hull, where women are fighting different battles with the same spirit.”
What better way to reflect and explore Hull’s identity today than through the spirit of Mighty Atom’s characters and imagined community?
“The play talks about resilience, a fundamental aspect of Hull’s nature as a city,” says Amanda. “It explores the fictional, but familiar, community of Heathland: an estate which, in some quarters, is described as deprived and disenfranchised but is also full of proud, strong, clever, funny, resourceful people who refuse to accept they’ve ‘no voice, no choice’. The story shows the diversity of the community and its ability to reinvent itself. It echoes the ongoing conversation in the city about what Hull was, is and could.”
This all-female cast, still scarce in theatre, is continuing to push boundaries not just on stage, but offstage too. They have all been training for the show’s run at Vulcan Boxing Club, taking part in weekly boxing and high-intensity fitness sessions. The group has been learning key boxing techniques, as well as improving their overall fitness and stamina ahead of this physically demanding show.
It’s been helping the cast to fully get to grips with their characters, too.
Caitlin Drabble, who plays ex-pro boxer Taylor Flint in Mighty Atoms, says: “Vulcan Boxing Club is nothing short of precious. Whether you’re attending a handful of sessions, or for years of training, it strikes me that you will be valued as an individual and championed for your own capability.
“In my discovery of my character Taylor, it’s been fundamental to feed off the club – for my own training’s upkeep and to immerse myself in the safe space that she once inhabited, has lost, but will be forever drawn back to.”
Mighty Atoms opens on Thursday 8 June and runs until Saturday 17 June at Hull Truck Theatre.