Theatre of Wrestling: Unruly Music Hall Sport Review

AKA: N/A
Genre: Documentary (Part I), Experimental/Comedy/Theatrical Pro Wrestling (Part II [yes, really])
Year Released: 2021
Distributor: Wrestling Resurgence
Origin: England
Running Time: Webseries, 2 episodes 17-28 minutes each
Rating/Recommended Audience: PG
Related Films/Series: N/A
For Fans Of: Besides Wrestling Resurgence’s Art & Wrestling documentaries for Part I, I can’t think of anything else like Theatre of Wrestling.
Notes:
-Theatre of Wrestling is streaming on Wrestling Resurgence’s YouTube page.

-I can’t talk about educated wrestling things without big upping the educated wrestling folk at Wresthings podcast. I also have to big up Mekz from Wrestlemaniac UK. Check out both of their videos and podcasts!

-Please watch the documentary section first before the full performance. Trust me, it will make a LOT more sense and you’ll get the full effect of this series.

-The personnel in this review will be addressed by their ring names so any wrestling fan who reads this will know whom I’m talking about.
Richard Summers-Calvert=Charles Crowley
Thomas Dawkins=Cara Noir
Paddy Townsley=Gene Munny
Rachel Seagroatt=Clementine
Gisele Mayordo=Gisele Shaw
Fun Facts:
-Wrestling Resurgence is an indie wrestling federation based in Nottingham, England, and was founded in 2007. They mainly do shows in the East Midlands region in art galleries, museums, and university spaces of all places. It was founded by university professor Dr. Claire Warden who also does commentary for most of their shows and Sam West who is a researcher at Loughborough University. West is also the narrator, co-writer, and producer for this project. Some wrestlers who have had matches there that are currently signed to major companies include the likes of Flash Morgan Webster, “Wild Boar” Mike Hitchman, Gabriel Kidd, Rampage Brown, Levi Muir, Aleah James, Millie/Emilia McKenzie, and Eddie Dennis to name a few.

-The co-director for this project alongside Charles Crowley is Thomas Dawkins AKA Cara Noir. You might know him and Crowley from my You Are Cordially Invited review. This wrestler from Romford, Greater London (or Essex depending on who you talk to) used to go under his real name before developing the Cara Noir character in 2017 per suggestion from fellow wrestler Chris Brookes of #CCK and Neo Respect Army fame. He’s a 4X Attack! 24:7 Champion as well as being the final Attack! Champion for the now-defunct Attack! Pro Wrestling promotion. Noir is a former HOPE Champion, 2020 wXw 16 Carat Gold winner, and has the distinction of being the longest-reigning Progress Unified World Champion. Interestingly enough, he was trained by Zack Sabre Jr. and has a background in rugby, taekwondo, capoeira, dance, and acrobatics.

-WWE Fan Bonus: In one of the segments in Part I, they parody 90s wrestling, mainly the Attitude Era back when Vince McMahon’s company was the WWF. There are references to the Undertaker with the Munny Martino character doing a tombstone piledriver, Charles Crowley playing the “BAZOOOOOOOKA!” (that should be a meme) character having Jeff Hardy armbands, and Munny saying he has “two words…Bring it!” He just referenced D-Generation X and The Rock in the same sentence! Also, Charles Crowley’s strongman character is based on real-life strongman Eugen Sandow which is where current NWA wrestler Aron Stevens’ WWE name of Damien Sandow comes from.

-Hilarious in Hindsight/BritWres Fan Bonus: Gisele the Magnificent, did you tell your assistant Bob to raid Rishi Ghosh’s wardrobe and steal the red right-hand glove of Bonesaw from the Kings of the North? Wow, I think I know more about BritWres than I ever anticipated. This kind of scares me.

-The only actor for this project who isn’t originally from the UK is “The Quintessential Diva” Gisele Shaw. She was born in Toledo City, Philippines before settling in the Northwest Territories during her childhood and Toronto, Ontario later on and is currently based in Wales as of a couple of years ago. Shaw is a 2X RevPro British Women’s Champion (also the first non-British woman to win that title), Fierce Females Champion, and Progress Women’s Champion where she is both the first Filipina and Canadian champion in that company. Outside of those companies, she has wrestled matches for Riptide, Border City Wrestling, Attack! Pro Wrestling, and even Impact.

-Some of the archived footage involves You Are Cordially Invited as well as matches from Riptide Wrestling, GOOD Wrestling, Wrestling Resurgence (kind of a given), and Pro Wrestling: EVE. Various wrestlers who show up in the match footage include Su Yung, PAC, Mike Bird, Damon Moser, Charli Evans, Chris Brookes, Chakara, Cassius, and Spike Trivet.

Looks like I get to talk about the world of indie British Wrestling once again on this blog. After thinking about my Top 7 list about indie UK-based wrestlers who should get their own documentaries and my review of You Are Cordially Invited, I was really thinking about what my favorite federation is in Good ‘Old Blighty. I know I mentioned this company multiple times in the former, but the answer is clearly Wrestling Resurgence. That promotion is the fusion between art and wrestling (no pun intended) that the world didn’t know it needed with how creative, innovative, and inclusive they are. “Arthouse Wrestling” may seem very oxymoronic of a slogan, but when you watch one of their shows, you’ll believe it. They do shows in art spaces instead of stadiums, athletic centers, or bingo halls. They’ve invented the Artcore match which is a parody of hardcore matches where fans bring crayons, canvases, and art supplies for the wrestlers to paint/draw something before being able to use them as weapons. Resurgence features women’s matches in prominent positions as well as main eventing with them (see: the Iron Woman show much less the Kanji/Charli Evans feud) and they even had a whole show celebrating Black History Month with Everything Patterned which gave me massive respect for that company when they let “Big Wavy” Roy Johnson curate that event. I’ve been exposed to so many talented wrestlers through that company and they’re the only federation where I’ve supported them by seeing all their shows besides that crossover one they did in Sheffield. Yeah, think about that. I’ll even say that checking out their shows (especially Everything Patterned) allowed me to be more open in liking wrestling in both my online and even more so in my offline life. This has shattered so many preconceptions with the presentation, choice of venues, and them actually caring about positive representation regardless of gender, sexual orientation, and/or race. When I heard they made a new project that they completed within a day’s worth of filming despite not having shows due to COVID at the time, I just had to check it out.

Will this be another innovative masterpiece like Resurgence’s previous shows before COVID or will this be pure kitsch as people assume wrestling to be trash?

Theatre of Wrestling: Unruly Music Hall Sport is a two-part series involving an experimental hybrid between theatre and pro wrestling. The first part is a documentary that involves interviews from the wrestlers involved, behind-the-scenes of the project, and connects the history between pro wrestling, comedy, martial arts, circuses, and multiple forms of theatre. There’s over a century’s worth of history and even more so with the various intersections of grappling (catch wrestling, Cumberland wrestling, etc.), as well as vaudeville, or plays. The wrestlers explain these various connections while trying to craft a fusion between the highbrow atmosphere of theatrical works with the “B-grade working-class soap opera” of pro wrestling. The second part of Theatre of Wrestling involves the actual production itself. Act I deals with Munny Martino’s open challenges as this wrestler is portrayed by Gene Munny and the promoter as well as the challengers are portrayed by Charles Crowley. There are three open challenges that affectionately parody 1900s catch as catch can wrestling, 1970s Word of Sport British wrestling, and late 90s WW(F/E) Attitude Era style wrestling. Act II is about a fight between a haughty strongman (played by Crowley again) against a very reluctant lion portrayed by Clementine. The strongman is frustrated by making this fight happen, but the lion would rather just chill instead of fighting. Things eventually escalate as Crowley’s character takes out his anger at the feline. Act III is the magic death match. A devious magician known as Gisele the Magnificent (obviously played by Gisele Shaw) with her harassed assistant Bob who’s played by Munny again. They perform magic tricks which start out on the level, but Gisele has a bad habit of verbally abusing Bob subtly before smiling back to the crowd. She then physically abuses him as he is extremely reluctant to be cut in half for the final trick. Both of them engage in a fight with parlor magic props and someone might be going to be separated on the table in some way.

Wrestling Resurgence is hands down the most creative and innovative federation where most companies balk at those qualities, and this was certainly an original endeavor for them or anyone. I tip my hat to this federation for inventing theatrical pro wrestling. The cinematography was very crisp, yet grounded with both the documentary scenes and for the actual performance itself. My mind was blown by how they came up with a documentary and a short play in just a day, so they get major props there. I felt like I learned different things about wrestling as a legitimate artform as well as a highly unlikely one at that. The level of research going into the history was done in a way anyone can understand and anyone who thinks pro wrestling is nothing but WWE much less giant roided up men beating the tar out of each other in spandex needs to seriously slap themselves. I would’ve never guessed that there was a legit connection with theatre. Not just the vaudeville stuff, but commedia dell’arte and French theater of all places. Unlike You Are Cordially Invited, this doesn’t involve that many in-jokes to BritWres or wrestling, and the documentary goes in-depth with the influences without being didactic. During the Attitude Era parody scenes, I actually got most of the references and I wasn’t even allowed to watch WWE/F or WCW during that part of my life (wow, I partially gave away my age there). I could see a random person actually getting the humor and some of it explains itself. Seasoned wrestling fans and newbies can both enjoy this work. This could even destroy so many preconceptions with this convergence between theatre and pro wrestling of all things. One observation I had about the Magic Death Match act was being a subtle parody of a hardcore match. There were weapons used at multiple times with the magic props, yet the whole performance was bloodless, so it’s a “hardcore” match that’s made for the whole family. Also, stage magic and pro wrestling have a lot in common if you really think about it. There’s sleight of hand with the tricks as well as the staged combat respectively, the performers usually have pseudonyms, and there’s a code to protect the businesses by not giving away secrets (see: real-life magician’s unions and the concept of kayfabe in pro wrestling). That was highly original and loaded with fridge brilliance, so big up for that fantastic correlation there.

A lot of the acting here is really good. It’s not really about people playing their wrestling gimmicks, but by playing different characters. Crowley has a legitimate acting background which shows. While some of his Crowley-isms of his wrestling character show up in small doses, he is able to play multiple people like the promoter, the open challengers, and the strongman. He has such range and is over-the-top in the right ways. Gene Munny has always been a great character in the ring, but he has serious acting chops. As the Munny Martino character, he actually switches his accent to parody the time periods of wrestling. He sounds exactly like an American in an early 20th-century film it’s almost like he got possessed by some long-deceased wrestler or just person in general with his inflections and tonality. Munny switches to a Northern English accent for the World of Sport parody moment before sounding like a stereotypical 90s pro wrestler in the Attitude era homage (he even briefly sounds like “Macho Man” Randy Savage at the beginning of that segment). Clementine worked very well as a lion character with her animalistic movements and pretending she’s heavier than she is when Crowley tries to pick her up at times to reflect a real lion’s mass even though she’s clearly smaller than him. She even has a brief monologue which was oddly heart-wrenching. I know I’m repeating some points on Twitter and the YouTube comments, but I think Clementine’s lion character just became the biggest babyface in wrestling with her monologue and her character being abused in this play by Crowley’s heelish strongman character. I’d certainly root for that big cat over “esteemed” faces in wrestling history like that racist jackoff Hulk Hogan or wife-beater “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, that’s for sure. Current faces like “Hangman” Adam Page from AEW or Hiroshi Tanahashi from New Japan Pro Wrestling should take notes. Haha! Clementine’s character might be the best lion protagonist since Osamu Tezuka’s Kimba, right? Gisele Shaw as this evil magician was fun to watch. She can certainly play a villain from what I’ve seen of her current heel work in Progress, so it did translate well here with her disingenuous smile towards the “audience”, condescending attitude towards Bob, and her icy alto voice really worked for the character. I can tell everyone had a lot of fun making this experimental and original project in that empty music hall, so kudos to Wrestling Resurgence for doing that.

Theatre of Wrestling: Unruly Music Hall Sport sometimes gets a slice of Ainsley Lariat if I were to reference Gene Munny’s finishing move. Yes, I feel proud of that reference and it’s even more appropriate when you realize that he’s a former Resurgence Champion. The production is certainly great, but I did notice a few errors here and there. The audio production in Part II can be a bit inconsistent with some camera shots having better audio than others and I heard some mic cut-offs at certain times. Some of the audio got too loud and it might have been to a lack of tracking or the acoustics being that powerful in an empty building. In the interview segments involving Part I, I noticed that Gisele Shaw’s name wasn’t on the screen like the other creators or performers that got interview time which was very inconsistent there. Going back to the documentary section of Theatre of Wrestling, I think there was a bit too much archived footage. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad they mixed up match footage from different federations (the Riptide clips got more screentime than Resurgence’s interestingly enough), but sometimes it felt rehashed like how they put a bunch of the performance footage mixed in there which does spoil elements of Part II. For casual or even hardcore wrestling fans, I could see them being interested in some of the history or even certain wrestlers featured on here (especially if they know anything about BritWres), but if you’re looking for a 5-star match quality in-ring work that Dave Meltzer would approve, then you’re really missing the point. This isn’t some smark-bait kind of video, you know. I could also see American mainstream wrestling fans not getting this concept with the hybrid of something consisting of “high art” coalescing with pro wrestling in general. While the acting and performances were engaging, I do admit that Shaw’s acting did feel a bit flat at times when playing the magician character. I’m not asking her to go full-on overdramatic cartoon villain here and her delivery worked more often than not, but she did underact at some moments and the “[Bob], get on the table.” dialogue did get repetitive even if it was there to enforce her dominating nature to her maligned assistant. The piano music during the Magic Death Match was clearly a royalty-free work because I heard that exact same music in an educational video I saw months ago. Much like so many things produced in 2020 and 2021 so far, it gets obvious with the COVID warning at the beginning of Part I or some of the footage involving several people wearing masks. Good on everyone for making sure everyone is tested, masked up, and safe, but that could date this project a bit. This whole project was done in a day which I think is amazing, but maybe they could’ve spent some more time with the post-production or handled some retakes here and there.

This invention of theatrical pro wrestling was stupendous and only a company like Wrestling Resurgence could pull it off. Whoever says that pro wrestling can’t be original or god forbid have any artistic integrity needs to watch this and stand corrected. The level of combining both worlds was ingenious as they recognize the history of this artform, giving it a theatrical spin, and shockingly follow beats of typical matches in playwright form is astounding. The documentary and full performance work together as a whole series. I do wish some parts of the production would’ve been smoothed over and the acting in places could’ve improved a bit, but the strengths surely outweigh the weaknesses here. Theatre of Wrestling: Unruly Music Hall Sport is easily the most innovative thing I’ve seen involving this form of stage combat in a scene where creativity isn’t even thought about in that regard. Let’s see Vince McMahon, Tony Khan, or Bushiroad try something like this with their respective companies that they own. I would certainly say that this is the best wrestling-themed project I’ve ever reviewed on Iridium Eye so far. Resurgence, keep on bringing that artistic edge when it comes to making myself and others feeling sports entertained to quote Simon Miller. Strongly recommended!

Adjustable Point System:
-Add 1 point if you’re a fan of indie BritWres or theatre history.
-Subtract 1-3 points if you don’t want art and pro wrestling mixed.
-Subtract 2-3 points if you want your theatrical performances to be more highbrow.

Pros:
-Accessible to wrestling as well as theatre fans
-Hilarious acting as well as homage and parody elements
-Highly original, innovative, and creative

Cons:
-Titling inconsistencies and some audio issues
-Could fly over casual wrestling fans (mainly those that only know about WWE or AEW)
-Too much archived footage in the documentary segment

Final Score: 9/10 points

Content Advisory: Theatre of Wrestling could be fine getting a PG rating. The only usage of profanity is Gene Munny’s wrestling moniker of “That Damn Dirty Dog” being in the graphics of this presentation. The violence is surprisingly tame during the performance section of the project and makes the current PG-rated WWE programming look like Battle Royale, but I certainly wouldn’t let the kids imitate the stuff there like Gisele the Magnificent putting a sword in Bob’s mouth or someone being subjected to being cut in half even if it’s in the context of parlor magic. Even then, most of the fighting is pretty slapstick-esque. However, there is blood shown in archived footage of a Halloween-themed Riptide match and the scene in You Are Cordially Invited where Charles Crowley holds someone’s heart for a few seconds. Act II in the performance with the lion has themes involving poaching, animal abuse and the lion is strongly implied to be sedated/drugged when Clementine’s character claims they “put something in [my] steak” during the monologue scene.

-Curtis Monroe

All photos property of their respective owners and used under US “Fair Use” laws. Theatre of Wrestling: Unruly Music Hall Sport is property of Wrestling Resurgence. The screenshot is from YouTube and is property of Wrestling Resurgence.

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