Preview: Rob Drummond: Wrestling, The Arches, Glasgow

Spandex Ballet:

For people, especially males, of a certain age, Saturday afternoons used to be synonymous with wrestling. Not for us the gravitas of Grandstand on BBC1. Not when ITV was screening World of Sport with moustachioed seventies icon Dickie Davies.

   At my grandfather’s house World of Sport was the programme of choice. On would come Davies, a silver-tongued devil with huge sideburns, like carefully groomed foxes, on either side of his face, to introduce another bout of British wrestling. There would sit my grandfather, a heavy-set farm manager from Norfolk, with fists like mallets, rubbing his hands in excited anticipation of the latest match between Giant Haystacks (boo!) and Big Daddy (hurray!) .

   Never mind the fact that both wrestlers were so overweight that, even at the age of seven, one feared they would have a heart attack before the fight was over. Never mind that the whole thing looked as choreographed as a production of Swan Lake. Wrestling – with its good guys (or “faces”) and bad guys (“heels”), its “bumps” (when a wrestler falls to the canvas) and “take downs” (when one fighter floors another from a standing position) – was total entertainment.

   So it was for the young Rob Drummond. Even though the future theatre maker grew up in the eighties, rather than the seventies, he can empathise entirely with those who first experienced pro-wrestling courtesy of Davies, Kendo Nagasaki and Les Kellett.

   For the nine-year-old Drummond, however, wrestling meant WWF (World Wrestling Federation) matches beamed into British living rooms from the States. He’s had a love affair with wrestling ever since.

   Which, if you’ve seen Drummond perform in acclaimed shows such as Mr Write (winner of the Best Show for Children and Young People in the 2010 Critics’ Awards for Theatre in Scotland), seems somewhat strange. Drummond could be assumed to be many things, but wrestling fan is not one of them. He seems, as the saying goes, to be “a lover, not a fighter”.

    “I really don’t see it as violent”, says Drummond, during a break from rehearsals at Glasgow venue The Arches, where his new show, entitled simply Rob Drummond: Wrestling, opens on February 9. “It’s more about competition. I actually shy away from the wrestling that’s uber-violent. It’s all about going toe-to-toe with someone, seeing who’s better, and then shaking hands afterwards, which I love.

   “My favourite bit of wrestling matches was always at the very end when the heel would begrudgingly shake the hand of the face. I really enjoyed that bond between the wrestlers, and between the wrestler and the audience.”

   One might be a tad sceptical of Drummond’s assertion that wrestling is “not violent”, not least because he’s still wearing an elbow support on his left arm after an injury he sustained while training with pro-wrestlers James ‘The Antagonist’ Tyler and Joe ‘The Mercenary’ Coffey out in Linwood. The injury was, he insists, an accident, a mere occupational hazard. It certainly won’t prevent him from realising his long-held ambition of fusing his love of wrestling with his love of theatre.

   “Since I left uni and began to realise that I wanted to make a living out of making theatre, the wrestling show’s always been the Holy Grail”, he explains. “It was the one I wanted to get the money and resources to do. I didn’t want to do it too early in my career, with just me in a black box studio and no lighting. I wanted to do it properly.”

   Drummond isn’t keen to go into detail about what he means by doing it “properly”, for fear of spoiling the experience of the theatregoer. What he is prepared to say, however, is that the show will be a “journey”, both physical and emotional, through the labyrinthine Arches building. Combining theatre, pro-wrestling and documentary, the piece is designed by Francis Gallop, who designed The Arches’ memorable theatre adaptation of Dante’s Inferno back in 2006.

   The show is, he insists, for people who like wrestling and people who like theatre; in fact he’s certain that “fans of the Scottish Wrestling Alliance will definitely be there in numbers.” Drummond’s Wrestling show will not, he says, do for wrestling what the National Theatre of Scotland’s Beautiful Burnout did for boxing. It has no such narrative structure.

   “We’re not going to ‘theatre wrestling up’ too much”, he explains, “because it already is theatre. We’re going to play about with the audience a bit. We’re going to draw the line between wrestling and theatre, and then merge the two.”

Rob Drummond: Wrestling is at The Arches, Glasgow, February 9 to 13.

This article was originally published in the Sunday Herald on January 30, 2011

© Mark Brown

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