To describe this as a play about wrestling would be far too simplistic. While it’s set in the world of that peculiar combination of sport and showbiz, Nick Ahad’s Glory, a co-production from Red Ladder and Tamasha, is about so much more than that.
It’s a play that is also about racism and social injustice, about trying to heal past wounds, about wanting to find a place to belong, about following your dream, about storytelling, about male friendship and father figures. Set in a shabby old gym, the pride and joy of erstwhile wrestler Jim Glory (Jamie Smelt), in a rundown Northern town – it brings together three young men to grapple with their demons, both inside and outside the wrestling ring.
Ben (Joshua Lyster) is a black ex-soldier who has served in conflicts in the Middle East and is still recovering from the trauma of that, Dan (Josh Hart) is the son of a Chinese takeaway owner, tired of the casual racism he and his parents have to endure on a daily basis and Sami is a Syrian asylum seeker who studied law in Damascus and has had to flee his war-torn country for his life. Jim has his own problems and regrets, but sees an opportunity with this new generation of fighters to save the gym and regain some of his former glory.
Like the eccentric sport it focuses on, Glory is hugely entertaining, but it is way more nuanced than your average wrestling match. There are many layers here – of emotion, of social commentary – Ahad is never afraid to confront the thornier issues of life in modern-day multicultural Britain and the sometimes brutal reality of the immigrant experience. It is a state-of-the-nation play of great clarity and honesty. Aside from all this, it is extremely funny; beautifully written and erudite – with references ranging from Shakespeare through Chekhov to the Chuckle Brothers. The dialogue is authentic, the characters believable, the performances affecting, the direction from Rod Dixon full of verve and imagination – and the actual wrestling is jaw-droppingly, bone-crunchingly real, thanks to superb choreography by fight director Kevin McCurdy.
Timely, intelligent and quietly moving, it’s a production that provides plenty of food for thought – about community, identity, ‘left behind’ towns, the refugee crisis – while also making you laugh out loud. It’s entertainment with a powerful message that gets you in a headlock, hits you on the funny bone and breaks your heart.
Until March 3, then touring, including to Stephen Joseph Theatre March 4-6, Cast Doncaster March 21, Hull Truck March 26 and Albion Electric Warehouse, Leeds April 1-6.