Athlete and actor, Willstrop portrays squash’s journey from a London prison to the Khyber Pass and beyond
By ALAN THATCHER – Squash Mad Editor
James Willstrop brings together the two big passions in his life, squash and the theatre, in a new show tracing the history of the sport he stood astride when he reached the top of the PSA men’s world rankings more than a decade ago.
Willstrop, a keen actor, is in rehearsals with children from inner-city schools to deliver a new play called Outside The Box, which will be performed on the squash courts at the University of Birmingham.
The curtain comes up on the first performance on Saturday, with another show on Sunday followed by two more on the following weekend (May 28 and 29).
As the region gets ready for the Commonwealth Games, Outside The Box premieres as part of the Birmingham 2022 Festival at the end of May.
Outside The Box is a celebration of the game of squash and explores its fascinating origins from Harrow School to a London prison and on to the mountains of Khyber Pass and beyond.
Brought to life on three glass-backed courts, a cast of professional squash players, actors and school children present a show that mirrors the evolution of the Commonwealth, and Outside The Box playfully explores this journey for audiences of all ages.
Pakistan’s decades of dominance, that began soon after the painful partition of India, will feature prominently, especially the story of the incredible Jahangir Khan, who won the British Open 10 years in a row.
Outside The Box will also portray the incredible struggles of players like Maria Toorpakai, who had to disguise herself by cutting her hair short and dressing like a boy just to be able to play the game.
All performances of Outside The Box will include a star turn from the 38-year-old Willstrop, who won gold in the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Australia.
Speaking about his involvement, Willstrop said: “This project unites two of my greatest passions, squash and theatre. The fact that we’re working with young people, using drama to inspire them about the game, is so exciting.
“The play has been created by Untied Artists and The Play House, a Birmingham-based Theatre in Education charity, in collaboration with local school children.”
Jake Oldershaw, Director at Untied Artists said: “Working with children in our super-diverse city has illustrated why we need stories that unite us, regardless of our complex global histories. Sport always finds a way to do exactly that.
“Thanks to generous funding from Arts Council England and the National Heritage Lottery Fund we are able to offer the performances for free. It’s a fantastic opportunity for audiences to visit one of the Games venues and discover more about this incredible sport.”
Outside The Box is presented by the Birmingham 2022 Festival, a six-month jamboree which surrounds the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games.
Raidene Carter, Executive Producer for the Birmingham 2022 Festival, said: “This year sport and culture will go hand in hand for one huge celebration. As the Commonwealth Games arrive in the region, the Birmingham 2022 Festival programme will celebrate and explore sport through a whole range of art forms from theatre to visual arts, music to film.
“Outside The Box is a brilliant, theatrical response to a fantastic sport and we’re sure audiences will enjoy the unbeatable combination.”
Book your free tickets for Outside The Box
Birmingham 2022 Festival presents Outside The Box at the University of Birmingham Sport and Fitness squash courts on Saturday 21, Sunday 22, Saturday 28 and Sunday 29 May at 11.30am and 2.30pm.
All ages are welcome. For further information visit birmingham2022.com/festival. Tickets available here