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photo of wrestlers in a wrestling ring

31 May 2018

English and drama lecturer organises sell-out wrestling event as part of her research into Britain’s Spandex-driven grappling scene

Determinism is as much a part of professional wrestling as a Boston crab, according to some very hands-on research.

Earlier this month, the Pansexual Phenomenon Jack Sexsmith recovered from a suplex to pin WWE star Roy Johnson at the Wrestling Resurgence event at the Attenborough Arts Centre, in Leicester.

The twists and turns of his match delighted the sell-out audience, but, as always, the match played out to a pre-planned design.

“Wrestling fans know this”, said Dr Claire Warden, one of the organisers of the event, and a senior lecturer in English and Drama, in the School of the Arts, English and Drama.

“But, in the way film fans become completely immersed in films, and they know they’re not ‘real’, people who love wrestling embrace the pre-determined plots.”

When Dr Warden isn’t working on Russian experimental theatre, she’s one of the brains behind Wrestling Resurgence – a small “art collective”, as she describes it, which is continuing the raucous and flamboyant long-loved tradition of professional wrestling.

photo of two people wrestling

On May 11, 100 fans came to see British wrestlers, including WWE UK stars, tombstone their way through classic good-versus-evil plotlines and imaginative Lycra-driven drama.

Performers on the night included The Henchmen, Chuck Mambo & Wild Boar, TK Cooper, and Flash Morgan Webster.

The main event was Fatal Four-way women's match between Millie Mckenzie, Chakara, Kaggy and Charli Evans.

But as well as entertaining audiences, the project also played an important part in Dr Warden’s research, which looks at wrestling as an artistic practice, rather than as a sport in a competitive sense.

“Wrestling is definitely closer to ballroom dancing than it is to boxing,” said Dr Warden.

“This was only our second show, but it sold out and featured some of the most innovative and dynamic wrestlers in Britain - including WWE UK stars, which is fantastic for us.

"And it wasn't just about the performances in the ring.

“After the event we had a Q&A focused on character development and we chatted a good deal about diversity, representation and connecting with audiences.

“The aim of the show, responding to conversations in professional wrestling scholarship, was to understand wrestling as a sport-art, to really practically find out what happens when you place wrestling in a gallery space in front of a mixed audience of wrestling fans, theatre-makers and art lovers.

“This project shows what can happen when academics are part of exciting collaborative collectives.”

The company (Wrestling Resurgence) is run by Sam West and John Kirby of the Attenborough Arts Centre.

Dr Warden is an academic partner on the project.

In 2016 she co-edited Performance and Professional Wrestling (with Broderick Chow and Eero Laine).

She will be publishing two new articles this year on Butlins wrestling and the 1930s' history of All-In wrestling.

Dr Warden's research interests include performative techniques in professional wrestling, especially with regards to actors and audiences, scripting and improvisation, British wrestling and progressive politics (particularly veganism) and wrestling in the globalised world.

The next Wrestling Resurgence show, Spandex Ballet, is at the Nottingham Contemporary, on Saturday, September 8.

Photo credit: Rob Brazier