A play about being gay in the macho world of professional boxing is to be performed in a Manchester boxing club ring.
Gypsy Queen is about finding love in the most unusual circumstances, exploring LGBTQI visibility in sport, faith, sexuality, and the notion of masculinity.
It’s about to go on tour for the third time. Just days before it opens in Newport, there’s a special immersive performance at Moss Side Fire Station Boxing Club, where the cast will perform inside the boxing ring. A family friendly performance at 3pm will be followed by the full production at 7pm.
We caught up with writer and actor Rob Ward to find out more.
Where did the idea for Gypsy Queen come from?
I’ve been a passionate advocate for LGBTQI visibility in sport for a long time now. I’ve always been a huge sports fan but growing up I didn’t have any gay role models in this world that I could relate to.
As society has moved on and we have seen the scrapping of Section 28, the introduction of civil partnerships and eventually same sex marriage, the world of sport has resisted this change. It has always felt to me that homophobia lurks in sport whether it’s chants from fans in the stands, tweets or even open condemnation from sports stars.
In boxing alone, we have seen over the past few years examples of this. Manny Pacquaio, now a politician in the Philippines, once compared homosexuality to bestiality. Floyd Mayweather referred to Colin MacGregor as a ‘faggot’ in a promotional event for their fight in August 2017.
Gypsy Queen itself was inspired by Tyson Fury’s homophobic rant in an interview with The Times back in 2015. Fury was citing his culture, upbringing and religion – as so many do – to justify his stance. It got me angry and from there the idea of a play featuring a closeted fighter from a traveller community was born.
How will you attract those who need to change their behaviour and attitudes as opposed to an audience that agrees with you?
This of course isn’t a challenge unique to Gypsy Queen but one of the great challenges of modern theatre. New plays are written by lefties and predominantly seen by liberal middle-class audiences who by and large agree wholeheartedly with the message of the play.
I believe one of the ways of combating this is to take theatre away from traditional theatre spaces and into the communities you are trying to reach with your message.
On this tour we are doing this with our performance in a boxing gym, taking the show into the heart of the sporting world. Now I’m not going to suggest that everyone in there will be a raging homophobe – I wouldn’t dream of making that generalisation – but taking a show into a different environment like this is one way of encountering an audience that might not necessarily agree with you completely.
Do you think homophobia in sport is being called out more?
I think there has been slow progress made since when I was growing up and even from say five years ago when I was touring my one man show Away From Home (a play about homophobia in football). Sportsmen like Gareth Thomas and Ian Thorpe have come out. Organisations like Stonewall have done excellent work with the rainbow laces campaign in football, for example, but then that occasion seemed to get very limited attention from the mainstream media. Only this past weekend Nottingham Forest fans are being investigated for alleged homophobic chanting during their FA Cup tie with Chelsea. There is still a hell of a long way to go.
Is it easier for a female sportsperson to come out than a male?
Tricky to say for certain as I don’t have as much direct experience of female sport. What I would say is that there has been more of a historic precedence for female sports stars coming out. Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova are two that spring to mind. I think role models and visibility are incredibly important. Perhaps female sports stars are less subject to the sort of toxic masculinity that I believe contributes to homophobia in the world of men’s sport.
Can you say in five words why people should see Gypsy Queen?
Five words? Because I need the money. Nah, I’m only teasing. To laugh, cry and question. How’s that?
Gypsy Queen is at Moss Side Fire Station Boxing Club on Sunday, 27th January.