With the Dukes not putting on their annual play in the park, the importance of the show’s they play a part in producing has unquestionably increased. The anticipation for Glory, created in collaboration with the esteemed Red Ladder Theatre Company, was palpable as theatregoers rolled into the Dukes’ beautifully intimate Round theatre space. Pretty much the entirety of the theatre space was filled a dimly-lit wrestling ring; the scarcity of set only served to escalate the audience’s excitement.
Almost immediately as soon as the performance started, it was evident that has-been wrestler Jim ‘Glorious’ Glory was going to be the driving force of this production. Thankfully, actor Jamie Smelt seized the part with a winning combination of spirited stamina and vehement verve. His comedic timing and delivery were second to none, fully making sure that none of the playwrights Nick Ahad’s exceptional writing went to waste.
The realistic dialogue ultimately effectively drove the play’s predictable yet utterly charming story and remarkably throughout there was a consistent level of humour that felt captivatingly organic. While the piece is undeniably humorous, the excruciatingly side-splitting hilarity often subsided in favour of moments of weighty drama. At first, the play entirely detached its comicality from its more severe dialogue, but as the evening progresses, they became increasingly intertwined to effectively paint a vivid portrait of an increasingly diverse England and the conflicts that arise from such diversification.
While the dialogue is ingeniously witty, the physicality encompassed within the production is magnificent. Often the unrealistic nature of stage combat sucks you out of the narrative you are absorbed you into, but performative nature of the conflict in Glory fits seamlessly serves to represent the very nature of wrestling. Even the overtly dramatical nature of the clashes felt much more grounded than a lot of on-stage fighting that I’ve had the displeasure of experiencing.
While Jamie Smelt’s commanding portrayal of Jim Glory serves as the driver of the play, the three other cast members were as equally as outstanding in their unique ways. Especially Ali Azhar’s performance as a Syrian Refugee where he managed to showcase both hard-hitting emotion and amazingly energetic hopeful exuberance dexterously.
It’s incredibly hard to produce a genuinely hilarious comedy and almost impossible to create one that packs a serious emotional punch. Glory seemingly effortlessly manages both by combining an affectingly impassioned and impactful story with real-life blows. The production team crammed the play with multi-layered characters that amazingly represent England that we live in today and their expertly crafted emotional depth is energetically utilised to create a state-of-the-nation that doesn’t feel in any way sermonizing. Glory is an undeniable triumph and precisely the boldly daring yet accessible theatre that the Dukes has always prided itself on.