March 13 2015
Fringe sensation leaves its mark during week-long South Bank celebration of women and we unpick director’s vision…
By Chayya Syal
AN EXCITING play which seeks to subvert common stereotypes about young Muslim women in the UK recently featured in London Southbank Centre’s Women of the World (WoW) Festival Week (March1-8).
“No Guts, No Heart, No Glory” tells the story of five female Muslim boxers from Bradford and discusses their hopes, fears and ambitions while punching their way through social convention.
The play, which is co-produced by Common Wealth and Contact, has already toured and been to Edinburgh, Bradford and Manchester. “No Guts, No Heart, No Glory” won The Scotsman Fringe First award in 2014. After its run at the Southbank Centre, which ended last week, it is set to show next at the Birmingham Rep in September 2015. Common Wealth specialises in producing drama that works outside of traditional ‘theatres’.
“No Guts, No Heart, No Glory” has begun to attract international interest and is due to show in Finland, Australia and the USA.
www.asianculturevulture.com interviewed the director Evie Manning about a remarkable piece of theatre.
www.asianculturevulture.com (ACV): What was the inspiration behind “No Guts, No Heart No Glory?”
Evie Manning (EM): I grew up in the Asian part of Bradford. My mum’s neighbour who wore a full niqab then, now she wears a burqa, had 11 children and was a boxer. (Laughs) I was surprised as I didn’t expect it! I thought that it’d make an amazing story. We just did a play about domestic violence – “Glasshouse” – and we wanted to make more plays about strong female representation.
ACV: How did you go about tracking down female Muslim boxers in Bradford?
EM: We found out that there were two National champion boxers – by chance – in Bradford. This was interesting because we thought why is this? Bradford’s got a vibrant Muslim community and we started to interview female Muslim boxers. This involved a massive interview process in schools and colleges.
ACV: Do you think that this piece of theatre will address the negativity surrounding Muslim women in the West?
EM: It’s not necessarily about boxing and being Muslim, it’s about being a woman. I think that’s why it has had such an appeal; there are lots of levels that people can relate to. What it’s really about being young and determined. It’s about having the ambition to be the best that we can be. It’s about the potential that we all have. By the way, the girls are normal girls. They’ve never acted before, but they all box and give incredibly strong performances. When people see the show they ask: “Where did you find the girls!?” And I say: “Well there are Muslim girls everywhere!” The play is about human potential and how much we can achieve.
ACV: Was it difficult to convince female Muslim boxers to audition and act in the performance?
EM: It was easier than we thought! We had a few British champions, did some workshops and since then we’ve met quite a few female boxers. People have this expectation of Muslim girls staying at home and not doing physical sports, but we found that there are a lot of them. What we found, ended up countering what both Muslim and non-Muslim communities expect from Muslim girls. It also showed what Muslim families and communities expect from their girls.
ACV: Did you come up against a lot of resistance? Or were communities quite supportive?
EM: We’ve had so much support! We’ve also had lots of people seeing the show and later saying they want their girls to box. I think it’s inspired a lot of people!
ACV: What makes “No Guts, No Heart, No Glory” a unique theatre experience for its audiences?
EM: It’s very much about atmosphere. It’s not traditional story-telling; it’s about feeling the atmosphere and the spirit. That’s what you’re immersed in and become a part of it. You’re on your feet – quite literally – and there’s no seating. You have to be on your toes as an audience! It’s not your traditional experience of going to the theatre.
ACV: Do you believe that this piece of theatre will challenge the social narrative currently surrounding British Muslim women and their communities?
EM: I think it already has! For us, part of the show is media representation. We’ve been fortunate enough to have our story be covered on all platforms. It’s not the submissive portrayal of Muslim girls who stay at home and can’t do what they want to do. We’re slowly changing media representation of Islam and Muslim women. In a small way, this play is counteracting that and saying: ‘Look at our liberal Muslim community who are living their own life. You can be a Muslim woman and make your own choices. Oh and by the way: our girls box as well!’ There’s a lot of negativity surrounding the community, their voices and stories don’t get heard or seen enough.
Main picture:(L-R) Nayab Din; Freeya Ali; Evie Manning; Saira Tabasum; Seherish Mahmood, Aisha Zia and Mariam Rashid; picture by Joel Chester Fildes, courtesy of Contact.
“No Guts, No Heart, No Glory” will be going to Birmingham Rep in September 2015. Check for Birmingham Rep for details http://www.birmingham-rep.co.uk/