The Play’s The Thing: Squash On Stage

Betrogen (Berlin Renaissance Theatre)

It’s one thing to write a serious play, particularly one using squash as a metaphor for the male social games played out by the protagonists of a classic love triangle. But it’s quite another to stage that play live on a set designed to replicate the closed space of a squash court.

Betrogen

Nevertheless, at least two attempts have been made in recent times to do just that. The play, of course, is Harold Pinter’s 1978 masterpiece ‘Betrayal’ in which Emma betrays her husband, Robert, a publisher, by conducting a seven-year affair with his best friend, Jerry, a literary agent.

Betrogen

2011’s Berlin Renaissance Theatre production of the play (‘Betrogen’) used a German translation of Pinter’s text by Heinrich-Maria Ledig Rowohlt and a modular ‘glass court’ stage set. In his review, theatre critic Andrew Haydon observes:

“… the entire play turns out to be set in a squash court. The glass fourth wall does gradually recede throughout the actio, which, at least, has the effect of situating each scene in a different space, even if they are all white with a red line running round them about halfway up the wall. But even this hardly feels like an outrageous exercise in regietheater gone mad.

“The squash court is no doubt a cunning reference to one the famous motifs of Pinter’s text being Jerry and Robert […] repeatedly mentioning that they haven’t played squash together for years. Here the squash court surrounds them like an emblem of this failure, and a monument to the reason behind it.”

Betrayal

In 2017’s Derby Theatre production, director Lakan Lawal used a fixed ‘glass court’ stage set, the significance of which is initially missed by theatre critic Alfred Hickling in his review for ‘The Guardian’:

“Even more peculiarly, the action is encased within a rotating plastic box full of modish, transparent furniture. You can appreciate what Lawal and his designer Neil Irish are attempting to do here, since the play is written in reverse chronological order that first shows the end of the affair and eventually arrives at its beginning. But the backwards-spinning box comes with the unavoidable side-effects of isolated, artificial sound, while the walls – which could do with a wipe – heighten the impression that you might be glimpsing the action though grimy bus windows.”

Betrayal (Derby Theatre)

However, Hickling then recovers, suggesting:

“Or perhaps it’s all meant to be happening in one of those see-through courts in which competition squash matches are played. It’s a plausible solution, given that the play’s homoerotic subtext bubbles up in a speech celebrating the testosterone-rich rituals of racket sport (first the game, then the shower, then the pint – women not welcome). And what emerges most keenly from the performances, which are generally good, is what a vituperatively misogynistic play Betrayal can be.”

Sources

Thanks to the Berlin Renaissance Theatre website and the ‘Postcards from the Gods’ blog for reviews of ‘Betrogen’. Thanks to The Guardian and the ‘Behind The Arras’ website for reviews of ‘Betrayal’.

An Open And Closed Case

This year’s Women’s final at the British Open Squash Championship in Hull was the first in twenty-six years to feature two English players, namely Laura Massaro – from Manchester via Great Yarmouth – and Sarah-Jane Perry from Birmingham. Coincidentally, the match was a re-run of the British National Championships final held in Manchester earlier in the year with the same outcome, namely Massaro beating Perry to take the title.

Open

But what of the 1991 final and its participants? Where are they now and what are they doing?

Lisa Opie

Held at the Wembley Conference Centre in London, Guernsey’s Lisa Opie beat Kent’s Sue Wright to take her first and only British Open title. She was the first British woman to win the title for thirty years and it wasn’t through want of trying. Opie had previously reached four finals in five years (in ’82, ’83, ’84 and ’86*), all of which she had lost to Antipodean opponents, Australia’s Vicky Cardwell winning the first two and New Zealand’s Susan Devoy the last two.

*Footage from the 1986 final between Lisa Opie and Susan Devoy is shown below.

Lisa Opie was never to reach the final again.

Nine years later, however, Sue Wright did reach the final again, losing to New Zealand’s Leilani Joyce. This time, it was to be her final appearance.

Closed

Sue Wright with 1998 National trophy

During her career, Lisa Opie also won three British National Championships (‘81, ’86 and ’87). After retiring from the sport, she was awarded an MBE in 1995 for services to squash and now works as an osteopath in West London specialising in sports injury rehabilitation.

Sue Wright also gained success in the British National Championships winning four titles (in ’92, ’97, ’98* and 2001). The latter stages of her career were plagued by viral pneumonia, which left her with ear problems preventing her from flying to tournaments held outside the United Kingdom.

*Footage from the 1998 final against Cassie Jackman is shown below.

After retiring from squash, Wright founded the Sue Wright Squash Academy establishing a National Squash League Team purely from Academy players, the first time this had been done anywhere in the UK. Amongst other commitments, she’s now a presenter, commentator and interviewer at squash tournaments for the BBC and Sky, as well as being an ambassador for the London 2012 Olympics legacy programme ‘Sport Makers’.

Serendipity

A few months ago, I got to chatting with a dance partner at a local milonga. She told me that she’d recently been having treatment for back pain from a female osteopath specialising in sports injuries.

“She used to be a squash player,” she said. “Didn’t you say you were interested in squash?”

“Yes,” I said. “What’s her name?”

“Lisa,” she said. “Lisa Opie.”

Sources

Wikipedia, YouTube and the LinkedIn profiles of Lisa Opie and Sue Wright.

The Redeemer Of Floridablanca

I have to admit that until recently I’d never heard of the Colombian city of Floridablanca.

True, thirty years ago I probably flew over it en route to a memorable stay in the Colombian capital of Bogota. but, at the time, my attention was focussed on reaching Lima where I was due to join a group destined for Andean adventure, Amazonian exploration and, although I didn’t yet know it, severe food poisoning. Nevertheless, at 928 metres above sea level, Floridablanca had, and presumably still has, something that, at 2640  metres, Bogota noticeably lacked; namely, enough air to breathe whilst playing squash.

In March this year, Floridablanca hosted the inaugural Ciudad de Floridablanca PSA Women’s World Tour tournament, the final rounds of which were played on an open air court located in the city’s Parque el Santisimo. In the final, former World Number 1 Nicole David defeated America’s Olivia Blatchford 11-3 11-4 11-8.

All this might not sound particularly special but the location of the court certainly was, sharing an elevated plaza with the tallest “Christ the Redeemer” statue in South America. At 43 metres, the Floridablanca statue dwarfs its 30 metres tall rival in Rio de Janeiro which, as I recently discovered first-hand, shares its vantage point on top of Corcovado mountain with up to 14,000 visitors a day most of whom spend their time getting in each others’ way and taking photographs of themselves and each other with smart-phones.

The Floridablanca venue joins other iconic squash court locations, including the Great Pyramid of Giza in Cairo, the Vanderbilt Hall at Grand Central Terminal in New York and The Peninsula in Shanghai, in providing an providing an incredible setting for some of the best on-court action.

So the next time you consider visiting Rio for the holiday of a life-time, why not check out ticket availability for the next Ciudad de Floridablanca? You could even fly down to the fascinating city of Bogota for a few days.

But if you do decide to visit Floridablanca, be sure to pack your umbrella. And if you  decide to check out the capital too, you might want to consider an oxygen tank.

Sources

Thanks to Squash Site for its review of the inaugural final and to My Rio Travel Guide for its information on visitors to Rio’s “Christ the Redeemer” statue. Thanks also to Colombia Reports for its article on Floridablanca’s “Christ the Redeemer” statue.

Girl Unbound (2017) – Documentary Film

It was 2010 when I first wrote about Pakistani squash player Maria Toorpakay Wazir (then plain ‘Maria Toor Pakay’) for The Squash Life Blog. Now, six years later, a feature-length documentary telling her inspiring story is about to receive its UK premiere at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival in London. The documentary, ‘Girl Unbound’, received its world premiere at the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival and is directed by US film-maker Erin Heidenreich.

Born in 1990, Toorpakay now lives in Toronto but remains a controversial figure in her home country. In Waziristan, her family’s home region, women are still forbidden by the Taliban from playing sports. ‘Girl Unbound’ follows Toorpakay over several months as she represents Pakistan on the national team and carves her own identity, despite threats to her family.

The film begins in Toronto, where Toorpakay practices with Canadian squash champion Jonathon Power, before moving to Pakistan, where her family is forced to relocate to Islamabad for safety. Defying fundamentalist threats, she takes a harrowing road trip with her sister Ayesha Gulalai, a local politician. We get to know Toopakay’s large family, including her father, Shamsul, and mother, Yasrab, who rejected restrictive customary gender roles when raising their sons and daughters.

In 2016, Toorpakay published a memoir, ‘A Different Kind of Daughter’. That book, together with this film, demonstrates that she is a vital voice of resistance, standing up to forces that want to dictate what a woman’s role should be.

Credits

USA, 80 minutes

Directed by Erin Heidenreich

A Blackacre Entertainment Production

Featuring Maria Toopakay Wazir, Shamsul Qayyum Wazir and Ayesha Gulalai Wazir

Producers Cassandra Sanford-Rosenthal and Jonathon Power

Music by Qasim Nakvi

Film Editing by Christina Burchard

Sources

Thanks to Wikipedia for its entries on Maria Toorpakay Wazir and Jonathon Power.

Manchester by the Canal

With the Oscar-nominated “Manchester by the Sea” still playing in the local cinemas, a return visit to the National Squash Centre seemed appropriate. Located in the Ancoats district of Manchester (England) within spitting distance of the Ashton Canal, the Centre was hosting the finals of the 2017 British National Squash Championships.

The last time I’d been to the finals, in 2011, reigning men’s champion Nick Matthew had been denied a hat-trick of consecutive titles by Essex’s Daryl Selby in a combative five-game affair. Since then, however, top-seeded Matthew had reeled off five titles in a row and was now aiming for his ninth overall, this time against first-time finalist Joe Lee.

In the women’s final another top seed and reigning champion, Laura Massaro, was aiming for her fourth title, her opponent being another first-time finalist Sarah-Jane Perry. On my last visit to the finals, Massaro had won her first title against Jenny Duncalf in another five-game epic.

This time, there were to be no fairy-tale endings for Lee or Perry, both going down 3-0 in entertaining matches.

In the final of the men’s over-45 competition, former two-time men’s champion Peter Marshall lost 3-1 to Manchester’s Nick Taylor whom I’d seen take the over-35 title in 2011. In 1994, Marshall, with his distinctive double-fisted style, had reached the final of the World Open in Barcelona where he’d lost to eight-times winner Jansher Khan.

Before the men’s and women’s finals, I watched the winners and runners-up of the rest of the competitions taking place during the week presented with their medals. I distinctly remembered that during my last visit to the championships, the finalists of the first men’s over-75 competition had been presented with their medals; this year, it was the finalists of the first men’s over-80 competition that were added to the role-call.

I made a mental note to be around for the first men’s over-85 competition but not necessarily to take part.

Sources

Thanks to Wikipedia for entries on the Ashton Canal, the British National Squash Championships and the World Open Championships.

Club Policy (2016) – Short Film

A couple serves up tragedy on the squash court when someone doesn’t abide by club policy.

Credits

A New Media Ltd Film

Written and Directed by Ryan Dickie and Abigail Horton

Assistant Director Ryan Gladstone

Produced by Corey Deckler and Paul Horton

Starring Meredith Hagner as Kelly and Jason Selvig as Don

Costume Design by Jami Villers

Production Design by Evan T. Schafer

Prosthetics by Izzi Galindo and Jackie Zbuska

****

Official Selection Fantastic Fest 2016

Official Selection Woodstock Film Festival 2016

 

 

Let’s Squash (2015) – Short Film

A short US film about a face-off between a squash player and a racquetball player.

Having recently played my first ever game of racquetball, I can understand the differences between it and squash, if only in relation to which of my muscles seized up afterwards.

However, the narrative of ‘Let’s Squash’ veers off into territory I’m no so comfortable with, e.g. the use of an on-court referee (clad in baseball ‘umpire’ gear), the occasional use of the side wall (by one player) to gain positional advantage during rallies, and the off-court appearance of a female player bouncing a completely different kind of ball.

Still, despite my concerns, I think I’ll give racquetball another try.

Anyone for tennis?

Credits

Produced by Michael McGovern and Chris Piepgrass (PiepGovern Productions)

Starring: Michael Schmidt, Michael Stevens and Michael McGovern

Special thanks to: The UO Rec Center, Tennis Gal, Ryan Grenier and Skye Gallagher

New Assassin On The Block

If I had a pound – no, let’s make that a 2000 Indian rupee note – for every time I’ve heard a sporting figure described as the ‘new kid on the block’, I’d be rich. Well, richer than I already am, which is ‘not very’. Then there’s the popular soubriquet ‘baby-faced assassin’, used primarily to describe male competitors blessed with youthful features and a measure of sporting success. Again, I can hear the metaphorical cash registers ‘ker-ching’, or at least I could if any still existed.

But then along comes somebody referred to, by the media at least, using both epithets. I refer to Egyptian player Karim Abdel Gawad who recently reached a career-high ranking of World No. 3 after winning the 2016 World Championship and the Qatar Classic in the space of ten days.

Gawad’s successes were presaged two months before the World Championships when he failed to assassinate Ramy Ashour in the final of the 2016 Hong Kong Open. That match went the distance with Ashour eventually winning 3-2. But Gawad had run the former World No. 1 close and, in their next encounter, in the World Championship final, would turn the tables, Ashour retiring injured at 1-2 down. To reach the final, Gawad had beaten another fellow Egyptian, Mohamed El Shorbagy, for the first time ever in a world-ranked tournament. Their semi-final was another titanic struggle, Gawad eventually coming through in 90 minutes.

Eleven days later, in Doha, Gawad did it again, this time beating El Shorbagy 3-0 to take his first ever PSA world-ranked tournament. In the post-match interview, it transpired that they had first played each other at the age of eight.

Where his well-earned success leaves Gawad in terms of his ‘new kid’ and ‘assassin’ nicknames isn’t clear. But, at 25, the same age as his childhood rival Mohamed, it’s unlikely that he’ll hang on to at least one of his current monikers forever.

And that new 2000 Indian rupee note? Well, that’s another story.

Sources

Thanks to Squash TV and Wikipedia.

How To Win A Squash Rally – Part 2

Those of you with a good memory will remember my previous attempt at identifying the behaviour pattern required to win a squash rally.

Unsurprisingly, it drew on those old themes of dominating the ‘T’, sending your opponent to all four corners of the court, and then finishing off the rally with an  unreachable shot.

So just in case you didn’t grasp it the first time, here’s another example.

This time, it’s Britain’s Daryl Selby who demonstrates what the pattern looks like during a second-round match against France’s Mathieu Castagnet at the 2016 Windy City Open in Chicago; all except the ‘unreachable shot’ part, that is.

Which begs the question, is there another ‘hidden’ pattern and, if so, what does it look like?

Here’s a suggestion:

  1. Return the ball from whatever part of the court your opponent sends it.
  2. Wait for a feeling of ‘hubris’ to manifest itself in your opponent. This may be fed by a combination of impatience, boredom, frustration, over-confidence, fatigue, incredulity and even mirth over your retrieval efforts.
  3. Trust that your opponent’s hubris will mutate into ‘self-doubt’ in respect of his or her ability to successfully kill off the rally.
  4. Await the inevitable.

In this scenario, of course, there’s no need whatsoever to worry about your opponent’s actual ability to win the rally. You do, however, need to acquire Zen-like powers of patience and trust, as well as being able to reach and retrieve the ball for long periods of time.

When I come across a fool-proof method for perfecting this, I’ll let you know.

 

The Book Of Squash

The Dilemma of the Expert

In a western country there once lived an expert on the game of squash. After a long and successful career he decided to write a book which would reveal all there was to be known about the game. He found a publisher with whom to work and dedicated himself to setting down the numerous secrets and subtleties of the game. In due course his book, a weighty tome, was published to great praise from his fellow experts.

Yet, despite his many efforts to bring his book to the wider attention of followers of the game, sales were poor. Disappointed, he decided to seek the advice of other experts from foreign lands. He travelled far and wide, listening carefully to their views and reflecting on their observations on the game. Yet for all their openness, hospitality and goodwill, he was at a loss to understand why his book continued to lie unbought and unread.

The Discovery of the Players

At long last, in a desert country, he came upon a small squash club. The club’s two courts and changing room were housed in an old building in a small town, many miles from the nearest city. Hearing the sound of play, he climbed to a small balcony overlooking the courts and looked down on the players. To his amazement, they were the best he had ever seen! Truly, he thought, they must have learnt from someone who knows all there is to know about the game.

As they finished their matches, he asked them who their teacher had been. All mentioned the name of the same man whom they called the Master. The expert asked where he could be found and they directed him to a tea-house in a nearby street. The expert thanked them and hurried to the establishment, eager to meet their teacher.

A Conversation with the Master

At the tea-house he was directed towards an old man with a white beard. The expert approached the man and introduced himself. He told him that he had visited the squash club and had been told by the players there that they owed their mastery of the game to him. That was so, said the old man, and invited the expert to join him.

The expert told the Master of his long and successful career. He had decided, he said, to write a book which would reveal all there was to be known about the game. He gave the Master a copy and watched as he leafed through the pages in silent wonder.

Sensing the Master’s admiration, the expert confessed his disappointment that sales had been poor despite great praise from his fellow experts. What could he do, he asked the Master, to increase sales? None of the experts he had asked during his travels had been able to advise him.

“I too have known disappointment in seeking to teach those who love the game,” replied the Master. “When I was a young man, I attained great proficiency and joy in playing the game. As I grew older, I wanted to share my insights and secrets with my fellow players. But I was not an educated person. I lacked the means with which to teach. Then one day, in a tea-house, I met a traveller and told him of my desire and of my frustration.”

“What did he advise?” asked the expert.

“Unfortunately, he knew nothing of the game,” said the Master, “but he did tell me a story which helped to change my fortunes. Perhaps it will change yours.”

The expert listened in silence as the Master told him the traveller’s story; the story of the book.

The Story of the Book

In land far to the east, there once lived a wise man who taught his many followers from a seemingly inexhaustible supply of wisdom. He attributed all he knew to a large book which he kept in his room. He would allow nobody to open it.

When he died, those who followers who regarded themselves as his heirs ran to open the book, anxious to possess what it contained. But they were surprised and disappointed when they found that there was writing on only one page. They became even more upset and then annoyed when they tried to grasp the meaning of the single sentence which met their eyes. It read: “When you realise the difference between the container and the content, you will have knowledge.”

The Opinion of the Scholars

The wise man’s heirs took the book to the most famous scholars of the time, saying:

“Help us to understand this book. It belonged to our late master and is all he left behind. We cannot fathom its mystery.”

At first the scholars were delighted to see a work of such size, bearing the name of its former owner. They knew that he had been revered by multitudes of people and assured his heirs that they would reveal its true meaning. But they became angry when they discovered that the book was all but empty and that what words it did contain made no sense to them. Believing themselves to be the victims of a hoax, the scholars shouted at the students, driving them away in their fury.

It was a time, said the traveller, when scholars could not imagine a book which could do something, only a book which said something.

The Interpretation of the Traveller

The dispirited students went to refresh themselves in a tea-house where they came upon a traveller. He listened to their story and, seeing their distress, asked them:

“What did you learn from the scholars?

“Nothing,” answered the students. “They could tell us nothing.”

“On the contrary,” said the traveller, “they told you everything! They showed you that the book was not to be understood in the way assumed either by you or by them. You may think that they lacked insight but you in your turn lack sense. The book was teaching something through the incident itself, while you remained asleep.”

But the students found this explanation too subtle for their minds. They soon left and neither they nor the traveller knew that their conversation had been overheard by another regular visitor to the tea-house.

The Book of the Book

The visitor, a carver of precious stones, was so impressed by the story of the book that he had it written down by a scribe and bound in a large book. He kept the book in a place of honour in his house where he could reflect on its teachings. In the course of time he gained a reputation as a master of his art. He was sought out by wealthy men eager to commission his work but, despite the offer of great riches, he agreed to requests only from those he judged to be most appreciative of his art.

As his apprentice he chose Babur, the only child of a widow who had fled conflict in her native land.

Babur Saves the Book

After many years the master died, leaving no heirs. Finding the book in its place of honour, Babur thought to himself:

“Surely, this must be the source of my master’s wisdom, happiness and prosperity.”

He read the contents of the book, translating them into the words, forms and subtleties of his own native language. Marvelling at its teachings, he opened a shop where he kept copies of the book on view. Nobody was allowed to look inside until he had paid two pieces of silver. Some learned the lessons of the book and wished to study with him. Others wanted their money returned but Babur said, “I cannot give you back your money until you return me what you have learned from our transaction, as well as from the book itself.”

Some who read the contents of the book preferred mere appearance to inner content. They called Babur a deceiver but he told them, “You have always looked for deceivers, so you will always assume that you have found one in anybody.

Ahmed Transmits It

One day, a young man paid Babur two pieces of gold to look inside the book. The young man, whose name was Ahmed, was returning to his home country after completing his studies in a city far to the east. Returning the following day, he gave Babur another ten pieces of gold, saying: “What I have learned from the book is worth far more than this, but it is all I have to give.”

Returning to his native country, Ahmed wrote down the content and history of the book of the book and had it bound in a single volume of over two hundred pages.

The traveller’s story, said the Master, had been passed down by the masters of the east for over five hundred years. Then he stood, bowed to the expert and walked away.

The Story of the Expert

The expert returned to his native country. From his home he began to travel from town to town and from city to city. Whenever he could, he visited squash clubs and watched the game being played. In the course of his travels, he met others who loved the game and many more who knew nothing of it. Many of those he met shared their stories just as he shared his with them. As he travelled, he became aware of some who were regarded by many as masters of their art. Some of these he followed until such time as he felt the urge to travel to other places, meet others and share stories.

In due course, he decided to write a book.

****

Sources

Thanks are due to Idries Shah.