Coventry’s Belgrade Theatre will see its B2 auditorium transformed into a wrestling ring this April, with the arrival of Nick Ahad’s sweaty, gutsy, painfully funny new play Glory.
Showing in Coventry 10-13 April, the show centres on three young men – Dan, Ben and Sami – who are compelled over the ropes and into the ring to wrestle with life, demons and each other.
But while on the surface the show is about grassroots wrestling, there’s much more to it than simply “men fighting and being macho”. It’s also a story about race, identity, mental health and what it means to be an outsider in 21st-century Britain.
Ahead of the show, actor Josh Hart told us more about his character and how the story resonates with his own experiences of growing up in a northern town as part of a British Chinese family.
“I play Dan, an avid northern wrestler who perfectly lives out the stereotype of a British Chinese male. He works in his family’s takeaways, he doesn’t have many friends but he does have a goal. Dan’s goal is to make it big, but he wants to do it his way,” he explains.
“Dan’s family have clearly had a hard time in the past, and I think he carries a lot of the burden on his shoulders. His memories are built on aggression and non-acceptance, which frustrates him more than anything. Wrestling is a way for Dan to escape the world he lives in and try and live as the person he has always envisioned himself to be.”
Much like his character, Josh has first-hand experience of the prejudice and suspicion that still follows anyone perceived as “other” in today’s society.
“The stories and memories that Dan has of his family and the abuse that they have endured echoes some of the stories that my mum has told me of her family household growing up. The long hours working after school, racial abuse they would get, lack of opportunity, fending for yourself and sticking up for yourself. As Dan I almost feel myself in my mum or my uncle’s shoes, trying to look after a frail old Chinese family in a place that doesn’t want them there.”
“When I was younger and moved to Northumberland, there was not a lot of diversity in the town, so being the only mixed-race kid on the playground I was prone to receive a few comments,” he continues. “The language used by the schoolkids is echoed by the characters within the play and just shows how much people are still intimidated by difference.”
Of course, this isn’t something unique to Chinese communities in the UK. Playwright Nick Ahad is of British-Bangladeshi heritage, yet drew heavily on his own experiences to create Dan’s character.
“My dad had a restaurant and a takeaway when we were growing up and seeing him in that environment had a profound effect on me,” explains Nick. “Seeing him transform into someone who, like all immigrants, had learned to play the subservient role in his own business in order to survive is something that will always inform my work.”
It’s this struggle for acceptance that is felt across minority communities in Britain that goes to the heart of what Glory is all about.
“I think the more divided we become, the more important I find it to talk about race and not shy away from the difficulties we face,” Nick continues “I don’t advocate stoicism and silence in the face of racism. There’s a part in the play where one of characters talks about the immigrant head bow, a small gesture of trying to make yourself small and quiet in the face of hostility. It’s what my dad’s generation learned to do, but we’re several generations on now and I and my contemporaries refuse to bow our heads.
“Having a voice, a stage, is a privilege and it’s a duty to talk about difficult things on that platform. That doesn’t mean it’s combative, a lot of the play is funny and funny about race. Drama is a brilliant way to raise an issue and humour is a great way to allow it to be discussed.”
Josh Hart agrees: “Glory is not just about men fighting and being macho, it has many layers that both men and women will be able to connect with. Each character has had their own struggles and has felt pain in their lives, and it’s these struggles that people can relate to, and can engross themselves in the journey of overcoming them.”
Produced by Red Ladder Theatre and The Dukes Lancaster, Glory forms part of Tamasha Theatre’s IGNITE progamme, which is supporting emerging Black and Ethnic Minority producers to develop new work in regional theatres through the Arts Council’s Sustained Theatre Fund. It’s the second IGNITE production to be staged at the Belgrade Theatre this season, following hot on the heels of the British East Asian-led Under the Umbrella, and was overseen by Creative Producer Anna Nguyen.
While great strides have been made to improve diversity in UK theatres in recent years, there’s still a long way to go, particularly when it comes to the representation of East Asian actors and artists.
“I would say that things are getting better, with more opportunities coming all the time,” says Josh Hart. “But there is definitely a lack of diversity on stage, and especially in the North. I rarely see a BEA on stage and most of the opportunities that have come my way have been based down South.”
With the West Midlands now home to a large and growing East Asian population, it’s great to see local theatres taking steps to address this historical underrepresentation by through productions like Under the Umbrella and Glory. Let’s hope that these will be the first of many still to come!
Glory shows at the Belgrade Theatre 10-13 April. Tickets are available to book now by calling the box office on 024 7655 3055 or visiting www.belgrade.co.uk where prices are cheaper.