The Clarence Play: ‘The Sweet Science of Bruising’

Wycombe Abbey Upper Sixth girls in the play boxing

In January, 11 Sixth Formers, including myself, took to the stage to perform Joy Wilkinson’s The Sweet Science of Bruising. Set in 1869, it told the story of four women who had been lured into the mysterious world of boxing by Professor Charlie Sharp: Matty, whose intellectual interests amounted to nothing in the real world; Violet, who dreamed relentlessly of becoming a doctor; Polly, who yearned for a taste of real freedom, and Anna, who was trapped in an abusive marriage. In the ring, they escaped the struggles of the outside world, competing for the ultimate prize – enough money to pay their way to freedom. I chose the play knowing it would excite the audience, taking them from boxing rings to backstreet alleys and moving them to both laugh and cry. My main aim, however, was to draw attention to the treatment of women in the Victorian era.

I began casting in the Summer Term of 2021. Although I had anticipated disruption, I was relieved that rehearsals were soon on track. Everybody was adept in balancing schoolwork, university applications, and rehearsals, and nobody had yet been struck ill with Covid-19. However, there was one slight setback: I had gone into the rehearsal process without any boxing knowledge. Luckily, Lauren, who has a brown belt in kickboxing, volunteered to choreograph the fight scenes, and it was not long before I had started chanting the movement sequences alongside her. By the time of the performance, the boxing scenes were seamless. I am especially grateful for the last-minute boxing training and support I received from both Lauren and the cast when I learnt that I would have to step-in for the final performance.

I also enjoyed exploring aspects of the production beyond acting, including lighting, costume, and sound. Making decisions about these elements of the production was new to me. Thanks to Ms Lansley-Davies, we were able to find five pairs of Victorian boxing gloves, a prop which I hadn’t been sure we would be able to locate. Mr Myles was also incredible in helping to bring the characters to life with lighting. I was particularly in awe of the boxing ring he created out of light alone. Special mention must also go to Semal, who dedicated the week of the production to designing and chalking a sign for The Angel, the setting of the play, on the back wall of the stage.

Unsurprisingly, my most exhilarating moments were those spent backstage. It was my first time performing to a live audience since 2020 – which I had not anticipated – and it felt surreal. As the director, I was nervous about whether my artistic choices would entice the audience, so it came as a relief when they started to laugh and gasp. To know that the hours we had put into rehearsing despite disruption and uncertainty had been worth it made me proud. It was incredible to see everybody bringing a new spark of spontaneity to their characters in the final performance. A smile flickered across my face as we spoke the final line – “the lady boxing champions of the world” – and the lights dimmed. We had persevered through all the challenges and disruption, defying Covid-19, to bring the play to life.

Charlotte, UVI, Drama Prefect