In the midst of a vigorous rehearsal routine, preparing for the upcoming opening night of ‘Glory’ on 21st February at the Dukes Theatre, I spoke with Josh Hart, playing the role of Dan in the play, about everything from his involvement in the show to his experiences in the industry…
‘Glory’ is at the Dukes from the 21st February to the 2nd March, before touring until the 13th April. Written by Nick Ahad and directed by Rod Dixon, the play revolves around three amateur wrestlers: Ben, Dan and Sami, wrestling with, “demons, life and each other” in the hope of achieving glory. Jim ‘Glorious’ Glory’s gym, which will see the Dukes Round theatre transformed into a wrestling ring, becomes the site of the three men’s struggle, as the play explores the notion of ‘brotherhood’ and the problems people of colour face in predominantly white Northern towns. The central theme of the play conveys a message about the notions of masculinity and how men cope with their struggles.
Performing in his largest production to date, about to embark on his first national tour, Josh Hart plays the role of Dan, an amateur wrestler from the north of England trying to make a stand and assert himself as a “good guy” in the wrestling scene. Jim’s only student of the last six months, Dan is a former soldier, representing the ‘new’ Britain, promoting diversity, youth and the power of the new generations. Ben and Sami equally fulfil this role, often counter-acting Jim, a representation of the traditional British older generations. Ahad’s key message here is that, whether we choose to accept it or not, the cultural landscape of Britain is changing, and we must adapt and celebrate a ‘new’ Britain rich with diversity and variety.
The group created the play following interviews and research in local gyms, such as the Red Rose Community Centre in Morecambe, where Ahad met Christian Flynn, a Lancaster-born ex-army boxer who was the inspiration behind the character of Ben in the play. Frank Harrington, one of the coaches at the Red Rose centre, also inspired some of the attributes of the role of Jim Glory, who runs the gym in the play. Hart spoke of the detailed and meticulous initial research and development stages of the production, which he was fortunate enough to have a hand in. As well as reading and adapting various drafts, working hard to find the right dialogue and mannerisms to suit the characters, there was a significant focus on authenticity and realism to support the real stories behind the writing. Hart was able to talk with Flynn, who became a large part of the production process, about his encounters with racism as a young boy, and his experiences in the army and with boxing. The team were also able to meet a variety of ex-soldiers, hearing their harrowing and inspiring stories, as well as meeting with refugees from Syria, as one of the characters in the play is an asylum seeker.
Hearing so many overwhelming accounts, Hart spoke of his respect and admiration for those willing to tell their stories, and a found desire to honour their experiences through the characters and the themes of the play, hidden in the comedic dialogue and fast-paced action.
The show revolves around the wrestling scene, depending on the strict, highly choreographed, practised and disciplined stage combat scenes that aid and structure the narrative throughout. Though qualified in stage combat, Hart highlighted the difficulty of fighting in a round theatre such as the Dukes, as the ‘in the round’ staging allows ‘nowhere to hide’, meaning that the actors are making contact with each other on stage. Though potentially dangerous, Hart expressed his excitement at the experience of working with stage combat in a way he never had before. “It’s all about trust”, he remarks, “you have to really trust the people you’re working with.” The fights become almost second nature following lots of practice; he continues, though you have to make them look natural on stage as if they’re happening for the first time.
Having completed an MA at ALRA North drama school in Wigan, Hart went on to take up a series of smaller acting jobs in the three years since his graduation. “I always knew I wanted to be a performer”, he says, “I’ve always thrived off entertaining people.” His success has come from years of hard work and dedication, but he is quick to share his love of acting, allowing a form of expression not found anywhere else, and an opportunity to lose himself in and find relatability with, the characters he plays.
I asked Hart to provide some advice to any prospective drama students and actors. His message was concise and inspiring: “don’t get disheartened and keep going.” He emphasised his time at drama school, encouraging anyone with a passion for acting to follow in his steps. Having completed his degree at the University of Cumbria, his move to drama school in Wigan was the best decision he made. He spoke of the vitality of drama school, allowing you to engage with the “levels of acting”, learning “neutrality, breath, listening and spacing” that allows you to “open your eyes and open your world.” In terms of creating a toolbox for the industry, he continues, drama school encourages a new way of learning through experience that has been key to his development in his career.
After a successful press day, appearing on look North and into the last weeks of rehearsal, Hart spoke of the play with a well-deserved sense of pride. Performing at the Dukes for ten nights before embarking on a three-month tour, the show is indeed one that you don’t want to miss. Having made the BBC’s list of ‘Shows you don’t want to miss in 2019’, Hart highlighted the sense of recognition and pride within the cast and crew. To be mentioned alongside some of the biggest play releases of this year is a massive achievement and one that is certainly well deserved considering the effort that has gone into the play’s creation.
Interview by Dan Pugh
Tickets are available on the Dukes website at dukes-lancaster.org