Ground-breaking play tackles inclusivity in sport

A ground-breaking play that tackles inclusivity in sport will be performed at Hull Truck on Friday 28 July. The play was developed through an innovative research partnership with the University of Hull and local LGBTQIA+ rugby club, the Hull Roundheads.

The 50-minute play, Safer, written by Dr Sarah Jane Dickenson, researcher and former reader at the University of Hull, has already seen great success in other cities. It has been described by audiences as ‘thought-provoking’, ‘powerful’, ‘uplifting’, ‘sad’, ‘really dynamic’, ‘funny’ and ‘fresh’. It is also – at times – disconcerting and touch to watch.

Founded in 2018, the Hull Roundheads is the first LGBTQIA+ specific sports team in the city. Since the start, the rugby club has focused on offering an LGBTQIA+ friendly community to enjoy sport and compete.

The club’s founding member Dr David Eldridge, who is a Senior Lecturer in American Studies at the University of Hull, applied for the new research grant launched by the British Science Association and funded by the Wellcome Trust – named ‘The Ideas Fund.’

Dr David Eldridge said: “This project is remarkable on so many levels. Not only is the way the research was conducted innovative and new – thanks to the British Science Association’s vision – but the results of the research have produced a play that is really taking the conversation about inclusivity forward.

“By interviewing members of the club – both past and present – about their experiences, we have been able to raise awareness of what people have had to face in sporting environments. We also realised that one of the barriers was that people didn’t know, didn’t share the stories and experiences of what they’d faced before – and how inclusive clubs strived to do things differently.

“I hope that as more and more people watch the play, it will become a catalyst for changing cultures within team sports and an opportunity to learn from each other better ways of forging safer, fully inclusive spaces.

The Ideas Fund is a grants programme that enables the UK public to develop and try out ideas that address problems related to mental wellbeing. The grant supports many ongoing projects within Hull and beyond. Read more about a recent celebration of the other Hull Ideas Fund projects here.

After a successful bid for £25,000 and strong support from the fund, the play Safer was created to raise awareness of how people have been subjected to a wide range of experiences in sport that have affected them at a very personal level.

Lecturer in Drama and Theatre Practice at the University of Hull, Dr Lucy Fielding, was also brought on as a director and researcher alongside Dr David Eldridge as project lead.

Dr Fielding said: “The characters – which are intentionally fictionalised – encapsulate the different perspectives of an inclusive rugby team and the people they encountered along the way to its conception. It offers a funny but sometimes hard to watch story of why sport is so out of reach for some people.  

“We believe the success of Safer is due to its ability to resonate with anyone who has found themselves in an environment that produces toxic cultures, but they have been unable to challenge that – the scope of this extends beyond Rugby or even sport in general.  

“Each performance is followed by a Q&A led by the research team and we are consistently inundated with examples of stories that were comparable to the characters they have watched. What is evident, is that the struggles faced by one team in Hull do not stand in isolation, they are the experiences of people all over the world and we’re hoping to start a change that ripples through the sporting community and potentially beyond that.  

“The final scene of Safer is hopeful, a deliberate decision, to encourage audiences to recognise that creating inclusive environments in sports is possible, but we need to be doing more than sitting back and waiting for it to happen.” 

While the play, which stars Angelo Irving and Ethan Lang, has been showcased in the city by Wrecking Ball Arts and at the University’s Gulbenkian theatre, it is now set to take to the stage at Hull Truck. Previously, it has been performed and seen much success elsewhere in the country. In August 2022, it was performed at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham and then at the Union Cup – the biennial tournament which brought together over 1,500 gay rugby players from across Europe in April.

In April 2023, it toured at the Brighton Fringe Festival and it has just been the headline performance in Glasgow’s MardiGla too.

Throughout the performances, the team behind the Safer play has worked closely with Active Humber and the organisation has become a major supporter and partner in the research. With their support additional funding has been secured for a pilot project involving four or five community sports organisations – to be started in September 2023. This will review clubs EDI policies and practices concerning LGBTQIA+ inclusion, with a series of follow-up workshops and support-based discussions.

The team is also already working on a series of workshops with local schools – which will also raise awareness and provide a safe space for discussion.

To watch and support Safer at the Hull showcase, you can book tickets for Hull Truck Theatre here. The play will then go on to be performed in London and Cardiff in the coming months.

The University of Hull is committed to social justice and building an inclusive society. Driven by its vision to create a fairer, brighter, carbon neutral future, the University is to working towards widening social inclusion – shaping a society that is built on equity, integrity and respect, tackling inequalities and ensuring that every member of its community feels, valued, respected and supported.