The Dukes and Red Ladder in association with Tamasha
Dukes Playhouse, Lancaster
A black ex-squaddie, a Syrian asylum seeker and the son of a Chinese takeaway owner walk into a wrestling club...
After which the punchlines, falls and submissions come thick and fast in an intricate and cleverly-crafted play from Nick Ahad. Like any good wrestling match, it’s fast, physical and a lot of fun.
Ahad is the ‘drama critic turned gamekeeper’ whose previous work here, The Chef Show, revolved around the staff and customers in an Indian restaurant. This time, his well-tuned ear for authentic dialogue, and an incisive eye for a well-turned character, focus on three would-be wrestlers and their coach, a former grappling star Jim ‘Glorious’ Glory from Glory’s Gym, based on an actual Lancaster gym owner. Ahad’s depth of research is evident throughout. He’s not afraid to go places or confront issues that society needs to address.
Like Chef Show, Glory is concerned with racial identity and the conflicts and confusion faced by minorities seeking acceptance and respect. It achieves it all within the rope-bound confines of a wrestling ring, a four-cornered fight where the characters’ back stories, of pain or persecution, are smoked out.
Joshua Lyster is the former soldier bristling with violence; Josh Hart is a similarly-raging Anglo-Chinese; Ali Azhar, a quietly-thoughtful Syrian scarred by war; and Jamie Smelt is their comically-philosophical trainer. All four performances are edgily authentic, and the same goes for designer Eleanor Bull’s dressing of the gallery to create a realistic faded gym setting. If ever a play was made for the Dukes’ studio theatre space, this is it.
In the moments that become actual wrestling bouts, director Rod Dixon and fight arranger Kevin McCurdy create a genuinely thrilling choreography with a real sense of danger. Just ask the theatregoers on the front rows. This is no-holds-barred live theatre of the first order.
The audience here don’t just applaud, they end up virtually baying for blood and are as keen to give the cast a standing ovation.
Clare Luckham’s play Trafford Tanzi achieved much the same—from a woman wrestler’s perspective—back in the 1970s. It’s surely ripe for revival somewhere soon?
Meantime, if you have to fight for a ticket for Glory, it’s well worth the effort.
It premieres here until March 2 then tours until April.
Reviewer: David Upton