What was it like meeting the woman who rose to the top of a male dominated sport?
Delicate Flowers tells the story of a young Hull boxer, Karen, who has been inspired by Barbara Butterick’s story and uses it to highlight some of her own struggles.
The play, written and directed by Mark Rees and performed by Single Story Theatre, looks at the legacy of a world champion whose tenacity and skill took her to the top of her profession.
Both stories highlight the problems faced by a female boxer in the 1940s and 50s as well as modern day issues, following both characters on an inspiring and fascinating journey.
We spoke to Mark Rees to find out how meeting Barbara inspired him to write the play.
Could you tell me about your background as an actor and director?
I trained at the Welsh College of Music and Drama and worked for many years as an actor in theatre and TV. I have directed for many years too, mostly with young people as a course director with the Scottish Youth Theatre, as a college drama lecturer and at Hull Truck Theatre for five years where I directed Quadrophenia, Marat/Sade, Grimm’s Lost Children and City of Light.
More recently I formed my own theatre company in Hull, producing original work for theatre and non-theatre spaces.
When and why did you first start researching Barbara?
I’d heard about Barbara’s story about four years ago from another Hull writer, I thought it sounded interesting, but put it on the back-burner. Then early last year I was looking for an idea for a new one woman show.
As I didn’t have the budget to go to Miami where she lives I resigned myself to writing the play from the information available. She announced she was coming over to visit her family in Cottingham so I was able to interview her.
What was it like meeting Barbara? Was there anything that struck you about her in particular?
It was amazing meeting her, obviously I didn’t know what to expect but she is an intelligent, humorous lady with a great story. What struck me most about meeting her was her dignity and the self-effacing way she told her story. She spoke very quietly and calmly and although proud of what she achieved, she felt she had just done a job, allowing female boxers today to achieve greater things.
What was the most interesting thing you learnt about Barbara from your meeting?
The most interesting thing, amongst many, was hearing about the touring boxing and wrestling shows she and her husband toured through the small towns of America. They also toured with a bear, although Barbara never wrestled it!
How do you feel Barbara has been an inspiration to men and women?
She has been an inspiration not only by what she achieved but also how she went about it. With all the set-backs she had, she never wavered from her task, never gave up and always moved forward.
How is this performance different to performances you have directed in the past?
This play is touring for two weeks in Hull as well as performing as part of WOW Festival. We are touring to non-theatre venues and to audiences that do not regularly attend theatre. The performance has been written with this in mind. Not that it’s any less of a play, but it tells Barbara’s story through the eyes of a young Hull boxer Karen, and accentuates all the positive characteristics of an iconic boxer.
How do you hope the performance will help people understand how significant Barbara was?
It is a piece of straight forward storytelling allowing people to see the highs and few lows of her extraordinary career. Hopefully, it is the sort of piece that will make you want to find out more or say, why didn’t I know this? It clearly shows her struggle for success and her eventual triumph in a male dominated profession.
What has been the most exciting aspect about directing Delicate Flowers?
The most exciting aspect of directing Delicate Flowers has been working closely with the actor Kate Rose-Martin on developing the script. Experimenting and editing the text to make the story clear and interesting and also allowing the actor to explore and develop the role into making it her own.
Single Story: Delicate Flowers will take place at Ferens Studio, 11 March at 6pm as part of WOW Hull.
This event is available to WOW Day Pass holders for FREE.
To book for this event at the discounted price as a WOW Day Pass holder, follow the instructions provided on your eTicket.