Rob Ward’s – Gypsy Queen
Written by Lewis Wheeler
This year was a successful PRIDE, with the incredible yearly festival (which has being going strong now for 25 years) continued to raise awareness with a number of iconic artists such as Years and Years, Ariane Grande, Cheryl and many more a like. PRIDE tells us that the world is finally starting to listen; seeing rainbow flags around Manchester, with the bee hive itself showing full support for this community that lives within it.
The spirit of Manchester is a prevailing essence for the LGBTQ community, helping echo that there is no difference between one person. We are all the same. We each have our own journeys enduring hardship and pain whilst appreciating the blissful, beautiful moments of life. Whether that person be straight, gay, trans or anything else in between.
Hope Mill Theatre, being a great advocate for many of Manchester’s wonderful artists, now have the pleasure of hosting Rob Ward’s, ‘Gypsy Queen’. Having many positive views from ‘The Independent’, ‘Broadway Baby’, praising both Ward’s writing abilities but also his commitment to diverse roles all within one performance. Gypsy Queen personally explores LGBTQ visibility in sport, faith and sexuality and where else better to see it than in Manchester?
Paul Vallely (The Independent), praised it so much that he considered it ‘a worthy successor’ to Ward’s previous work. ‘Away From Home’ a similar format to which Gypsy Queen is set, playing on that masculine role of sports in a world where no professional is ‘out’.
I have always found beauty in watching characters grow wether it be through television, cinema or the theatre. It’s an incredible art, capturing a person and telling their story, it is surely an overlooked blessing. People deserve to be heard, with performances highlighting real life situations it will help people to open their own minds. Learning to be more empathetic and understanding how another person can feel.
We decided to ask Rob some questions to get to know this wonderful character on a more personal level. Have a look at what he said.
What initially sparked your interest in writing and performing theatre?
I think it all goes back to being a kid to be honest. I loved making up stories and I loved showing off, I must have been a proper pain in the backside, and as I grew up that sense of fun and play has always stayed with me. When I was at university I remember doing a playwriting course that was overseen by the Royal Exchange and that taught me more about the technical demands of structuring stories. One of the good things about this industry is there aren’t really any rules that you need to be one thing over another. I love doing both and until someone tells me I can’t so I guess I’ll just carry on!
Using the platform of theatre, why is it so important to convey your messages through this art?
I love theatres ability to engage you in a debate on some of the bigger questions in life through following the journey of a character and I’m always amazed at how theatre continues to present these challenges in a huge variety of ways. I also think for an audience, the live experience brings an extra immediacy to issues that emerge in a play and this is something unique to theatre.
Having said that, What do you hope people will take away from watching ‘Gypsy Queen’, and the lasting impacts you’d want them to have?
I hope it’s a show that entertains people, makes people laugh, makes people think, maybe even makes people cry. If we could manage to illicit such emotions, as well as a mulling over of some of the issues raised in the play, then I would consider that job well done.
With an amazing title ‘Away From Home’ already under your name, did this influence your approach when coming to write ‘Gypsy Queen? And if any difficulties you found beforehand showed up again, did the experience help to overcome them?
AFH was a one man show and GQ is a two hander. So already there was a big difference in the approach you take. The narrative voice of AFH is crucial in driving the narrative forward and whilst there is direct address in GQ, it is much less prevalent and the story takes on a more traditional scene to scene dialogue structure. I’d say when I initially started writing GQ I had to fight the urge to allow the AFH style to take over. They are very different plays despite dealing with similar issues.
With similar settings, Away From Home; football, and Gypsy Queen; boxing, why do you choose these environments and why it is important to challenge the social stigmas within them?
I think the world of sport is still an environment in which people, men in particular, do not feel comfortable being openly gay. I wanted to explore why that still remains the case in a world in which people now feel comfortable being openly gay in most other fields. Sport is still somewhat in the dark ages.
Being a 2 man show, what are the pros and cons that come with working with a small cast, and how do you overcome the challenges faced?
I’m very particular about who I choose to work with. I think you have to be. This play has been a passion project for me from day one and I would really struggle to work with people who don’t buy into its message or people who are just, frankly, difficult. They do exist in this industry and its important to avoid them at all costs. I’ve been lucky initially with Ryan Clayton, and since January 2018 with John Askew, to have to excellent actors who are passionate about the play and who are also a dream to work with.
Having more than one role in a performance can be quite difficult, how do you do to prepare yourself to keep each character separately grounded through out a performance?
It’s about clearly defining the particulars about each character they play. How do they walk and how do they talk? We have various different bits of costume that indicate new characters but it’s still important to physicalise that transition. The minute an audience become confused about who is who they step out of the world of the play and that is something you have to avoid.
Last month we had the annual festival ,which has been running for 25 years celebrating the LGBTQ community. Bringing in a host of sponsors and artists, such as Pride, Ariane Grande, gathering a lot of support within the Manchester community. In your own words, how important is Manchester being on the map in the fight for Pride?
Manchester has always been at the forefront of social and economic change in this country and is rightly proud to champion liberal values and an open mindset. It feels right that Manchester Pride is one of the largest celebrations of LGBTQ+ values not just in this country but across the world.
With that being said, do you ever have a different experience performing your work in Manchester compared to other areas of the UK?
One of the most fascinating things about touring this play – and we have been all over the UK from Welsh mining villages to big cosmopolitan cities – is seeing what different audiences around the country take from it. An audience in Brighton will respond slightly differently to an audience in Hull and this helps the play maintain a freshness each time we perform.
Favourite type of food?
Massive sucker for a good curry.
Which historical figure would you want to get trapped in a lift with?
Good question… feels appropriate to go for Muhammad Ali.
Many sportspeople are accused of being boring because as a professional sport takes over your life, but that could never be said of Ali. I hugely admire what he did for the civil rights movement as much as what he did in the ring.
What do you like to do to relax?
Go for a hike in the country or watch some sport. I’m buzzing right now as the NFL season is back. I’m very sad like that.
Are you more of a Dog or Cat person?
Dogs. I’m allergic to cats and they are possibly allergic to me.
-Would you like to say anything to the readers?
If you’re not into sport then please don’t be put off by GQ. I think even with no interest in boxing you will still take something away from the play. And whilst the issues at the heart of the piece are serious, I always try and insert some humour into my plays. There’s nothing worse than misery porn.
Thank you to Rob for partaking in this interview, and our wonderful Lewis Wheeler, currently on work experience from the RNCM.