Director: Evie Manning
Writer: Aisha Zia
Movement Director: Kate Sagovsky
Choreographer: Imogen Knight
Reviewer: Stephen M Hornby
A boxing gym in a fire station in Moss Side is a location redolent with possibilities for site specific theatre. The walls are covered in framed photographs, mostly of boys and men and their moments of minor sporting triumph. The smell of dusty male stale sweat hangs in the air. Into this come five Muslim women to tell us stories based on interviews with female boxers of what the sport means to them and what its place is in their lives, families and cultures.
The sight on entry into the main gym with the boxing ring is of three women training with a skipping rope in the ring and a coach and boxer sparing immediately in the entrance doorway, punching, grunting and straining as the audience find spaces to stand and sit in. This opening image cleverly sets out the landscape of the issues that will follow: two women are in the sweat and aggression of developing punching technique while three women are training in the ring with a skipping rope an ambiguous counter image which both sits alongside the rigours of training to be a boxer and is suggestive of the schoolyard and traditional play, the thing these women are trying to escape from.
No Guts, No Heart, No Glory is a series of monologues delivered by one performer or carved up among several or all of the actors in different combinations and styles. Some are delivered solo sat or evening lying down, others in the process of group choreography or movements sequences. The topics covered are both typical of teenage girls (my career hope, boys, being bullied, my place in my family, my sense of myself) and atypical (my families response to my boxing, my views on the struggle in Gaza, my sense of gender transgression in my community). These are all delivered competently by the cast, and the contrasts between solo and group delivery are chosen sensitively by director Evie Manning to match the topic. The sequence on the women’s sense of surveillance by their extended family and others as they develop their bond and interest in boxing is especially effective. The action overall, however, does feel somewhat squashed and Manning could perhaps of made better use of all of the gym and not just one room. After an introduction about the importance of the audience moving round to capture all the action, barely any movement was actually required. It would have been good to get the audience into the boxing ring itself, for example. The movement sequences by Kate Sagovsky and choreography by Imogen Knight add variety, energy and pace to the piece but the play fails to deliver on perhaps the one scene that would make it totally immersive, actual boxing.
Some the dialogue can sound callow and perhaps platitudinous at points, but given that the script is based on real interviews with young female boxers, the extent to which they regurgitate lines about freedom and selfhood is interesting in itself. The sense of entitlement to self actualisation regardless of ability, aptitude or the harsher realities of the world is a common theme in current culture and echoes through this piece with injunctions such as ‘What do I really want? What do I really need?’
No Guts, No Heart, No Glory is a vital piece of new writing that explores emerging identities in a setting that amplifies the resonance of these new voices. If not wholly successful, it provides a challenge to the dominant notions of female Muslim identity and a satisfying and memorable theatrical experience.
Runs until Saturday 8th November 2014