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I Ain't Dumb - Tom Wright Interview

February 2022 sees the world premiere of Tom Wright's brand new play, I Ain't Dumb, which opens at Belgrade Theatre's B2 auditorium in Coventry. Coventry-born Wright talks about the inspiration behind his LGBTQ+ piece. 

Wright explains a little more about the plot "I Ain’t Dumb tells the story of an unruly bottom set class at a tough inner-city Coventry school, as they journey from celebrating their school’s rich diversity, to suddenly exploding in a rapidly escalating culture war. Natasha, one of the livelier students, makes it her mission to uncover the truth about what’s really dividing them. Even she’s shocked as the various twists and turns unravel and she realises her gay-bestie, Cieren, might be part of the reason it’s all falling apart."

Tom Wright. Photo by Ben Carpenter

Inspiration for Wright comes from his own school experiences in Coventry. "The play was inspired by some of the crazy things that happened when I was at school in Cov. As an adult, you look and back and think, was this even real? One particularly memorable event was when an argument between two students in drama class - one white, one black - escalated over the course of a week or two, into a full school fight. Pitching white students against students of the global majority. Everyone was encouraged to bring a knife. I vividly remember all of us standing on the all-weather pitch waiting for it to start, unsure of what was happening. Crazy right? This was a school where students from all backgrounds mixed and were typically friends. Luckily, the police arrived and hundreds of students ran away to throw their knives over the fence. Every single student was brought through a metal detector and searched, but only one was caught with a weapon. He didn’t get a chance to hide it as he was busy studying overtime through lunch. He was expelled. As a writer, I was fascinated by how this could happen."

Being Coventry born and raised explained how special it feels to have his new play opening in his hometown. "It is the best feeling to be able to premiere this production in my hometown of Coventry. This is a Coventry story written specifically with Coventry people in mind. People like my friends who may not typically come to the theatre, but are hungry for something new and exciting and that speaks directly to them."

Belgrade Theatre played a huge part in Wright's early years and formed his passion for theatre and performance. "I was sent to the Belgrade Theatre by my Mum when I was twelve because I was too embarrassed to do dance classes. I stayed there for six years. Doing workshops and productions were some of the most formative experiences of my younger life. I remember when my mum and dad came to watch me in my first performance and they both said how they didn’t recognise the confident boy on stage. It’s where I met besties. Learned about the world. Got my first boyfriend – secretly holding hands backstage. We were encouraged to explore things that mattered through theatre, and that’s been the foundation of my career."

Wright talked about some of the engagement work that is running alongside the production (details of which can be found at Belgrade Theatre's website. "I’m even more excited that we’re running an extensive engagement programme around the production. Collaborating with LGBTQ+ young people in Coventry, as well as offering an LGBTQ+ writer substantial play development and a full staged reading. We’re also hosting post-show talks in order to connect in a deeper way with audiences. We hope this will continue to foster the growing."

Wright explained the importance of telling this LGBTQ+ story, "It’s important for all people to see themselves and their lives represented and explored in art. Theatre has this amazing potential to show you alternative ways of living your life, and that’s where LGBTQ+ stories can be the most powerful. When you see LGBTQ+ people living their lives in rich ways that reject the norms, it empowers all people to live more freely, and illuminates the endless possibilities of how to thrive in the world. That’s our superpower. This play in particular is even more exciting as it features a cast of characters from all different types of backgrounds. Not only does this give us the opportunity to explore important themes through a range of perspectives, but even more audience members will see themselves reflected in the piece."

Wright finally discussed why audiences should come and see the production, "The show is directed by Rikki Beadle-Blair (MBE), who is a legendary theatre director and one of this country’s most brilliant LGBTQ+ trailblazers. Rikki’s working with a group of young Midlands-based talent in order to jolt this play to life. It’s going to be like nothing you’ve seen before. Highly entertaining, laugh-out-loud funny in one moment and shocking the next. It’s real life. It’s our lives. And it’s made for and by our wonderful city. LGBTQ+ and artist communities in Coventry. There’s so much exciting activity going on in the city!"

I Ain’t Dumb runs in the Belgrade’s B2 auditorium from Weds 9 – Sat 12 Feb. Tickets are available
by phoning the Box Office on 024 7655 3055 (phone lines open 10:30am – 2pm, Mon-Sat), or
visiting where tickets are even cheaper.

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