I have come to an amateur boxing club based in Sandy’s community centre in Craigmillar to smack a battered punchbag with British student boxing champion Saira Tabasum. Next week Tabasum will take a starring role in No Guts, No Heart, No Glory, a play developed by former UK female boxing champion Ambreen Sadiq and theatre company Common Wealth. Via monologues set in a ring, the site-specific show tells the stories of teenage Muslim women from Bradford: young, fearless women who obliterate convention by boxing.
“Someone said why don’t you do a play about FGM or honour killings, but in a way we actually are,” says No Guts’ director and producer Evie Manning. “We’re tackling the issue before it happens. It’s about having the confidence to follow your dream.”
The play focuses on those who have challenged their premeditated futures, its writer crafting characters far removed from the submissive stereotypes of Muslim women found in mainstream culture. “There’s a massive invisibility of Muslim women in the media. So this play gives them a wider platform for their voice.”
Unlike Common Wealth’s last run at the fringe – Our Glass House, created from testimonies of real-life domestic abuse cases – this aims to glorify rather than lament: “We’re kind of celebrating,” says Manning. “We don’t really linger on oppression for very long. It gets a mention but we didn’t want to do the typical Asian storylines where you have someone struggling against the hijab – we’re not interested in that. We just want to show five very confident women onstage and we don’t need to show all the bullshit that goes with that.”
As I stand at a 45-degree angle with my fists raised, the smell of stale sweat wafting through the air with every swipe of the glove, I grit my teeth. “You don’t have hate for the other person,” Tabasum assures me, quashing my preconception about the bravado of boxing in one blow. “You see people hugging it out after a fight. In minutes you can be finished and thanking someone for the experience.”
After its week in Edinburgh the show will transfer to Huggy’s boxing gym in Bradford and Moss Side fire station boxing gym in Manchester. Inspiring, but without the weight of worthiness, it is well worth leaving the pleasantries of the theatre for.
• No Guts, No Heart, No Glory, Sandy’s boxing gym, Edinburgh, 18-25 August. edfringe.com