Give us a very brief introduction to yourself.
I’ve been a journalist since 1998, when I joined the Wiltshire Gazette and Herald. I went on to work for the Swindon Evening Advertiser and Yorkshire Evening Post before becoming Arts Editor of the Yorkshire Post in 2004. I’ve been a playwright since 2010, my first play was Nor Any Drop, based on a trip to my dad’s village in Bangladesh and produced by Peshkar and Red Ladder Theatre Company. In 2014 I left the Yorkshire Post and joined the Emmerdale script team; since then I have worked as a writer and broadcaster, writing plays for Ragged Edge Productions, BBC Radio and Leeds Playhouse. I also present radio shows for BBC Radio Leeds.
Your plays explore the contemporary British Asian experience. How does Glory fit into this?
I think Glory expands the themes I’m writing about to the contemporary minority experience in Britain. With a black British soldier, a British Chinese wrestler and a Syrian refugee as three of my characters, I think this play is an exploration of what it is to be the ‘other’ in contemporary Britain. So far in my work I’ve been drawn to writing about the contemporary British Asian experience because of my mixed-race English-Bangladeshi heritage. I think with Glory I’m looking a little further into what Britain and being British today means for any minority.
Each character in Glory represents someone or something you encountered during your research while writing this new play. Can you please give a very short description of each one and how that ties in?
Jim is based on a fascinating man who runs a gym just outside of Lancaster. It was a run-down gym, which I say with no disrespect, but if you think of the kind of place office workers might go for a yoga session at lunchtime – it was the opposite of that. The man we met was immensely proud of the duct tape covered punchbags and loved showing us his kingdom.
At that gym we met Christian, an amazing character. As one of the ‘only black lads’ in the Northern town where he grew up, he got into fights as a kid and turned to boxing to learn how to handle himself, and then to the army to learn how to handle the fighting skills he had. We met him after the army and he was training like a machine, keeping his discipline. He had this incredible energy, stillness and poise. He knew that you knew that he could kill you with one punch. That does a lot to inform someone’s character. He was also incredible sweet and gentle.
Sami is based on a number of refugees and asylum seekers we met who shared their stories with such generosity. We ate with a group of them, each one telling me the most horrific, almost unbelievable stories of their journeys from Iran, Syria, Sudan, all the while apologising for slightly imperfect English. It was incredibly humbling to hear what they had experienced to reach safety in the northern towns where we met them.
Dan, the British Chinese character whose dad owns a takeaway. Well, he’s me.
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. 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.
Glory uses wrestling as the larger-than-life backdrop to explore race and identity in today’s multicultural Britain. As something you have lived yourself, how important was it to you to tackle this issue head-on?
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. 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.
How familiar were you with wrestling before writing Glory?
If you’d have asked me 30 years ago, very. I watched the WWF, as it was, as a teenager with the likes of Hulk Hogan and The Undertaker and the like. My childhood, though, which was in many ways a typically normal northern working class childhood, was filled with the heroes of wrestling yesteryear. I still remember being beside myself when I was six years old and actual Big Daddy came to fight Giant Haystacks in my home town. When I became a man I put away childish things and that included wrestling. I had no idea that it was so vibrant and alive across the north. It’s been a joy to reacquaint myself with it.
Does setting Glory in this unique world allow for fun, creatively?
Masses of fun. I got write a stage direction which goes: “They Wrestle. It looks awesome. Because wrestling is awesome.” You can’t really have much more fun that writing that in a script. Seriously though, the team that has been assembled for the production is incredible, from the fight director to the actors to the designer. To imagine a wrestling ring into being and then put these funny, complex characters into it and write for them is a dream, but then to be able to write these elaborate and slightly manic wrestling matches into the story as well has been huge fun.
How would you describe the play in three words?
Easy! Easy! Easy!
Funny, dark, entertainment.