Directed by Charlotte Westenra
Designed by Paul Wills
Lighting by Hartley TA Kemp
Music by Niraj Chag
Sound by Nick Greenhill
Production photography by Johan Persson


Travis/ Herring- Nick Bagnall
Suresh/ Amin- Shiv Grewal
Sajida/ Randhawa- Claire Lichie
Stewart/ Keys- Tom McKay
Imtiaz/ Zahid- Ray Panthaki 

Revival cast

Suresh/ Amin- Shiv Grewal
Travis/ Herring- Paul Keating
Sajida/ Randhawa- Claire Lichie
Imtiaz/ Zahid- Ray Panthaki
Stewart/ Keys- Kevin Trainor  


“Staged with effective restraint and beautifully performed... an uncomfortable and soul-searching evening and its greatest triumph is that you leave the theatre feeling that you’ve met and known Zahid Mubarek.”
Lyn Gardner, Guardian

"A work of real political importance; painful to witness, but entirely essential." 
Sam Marlowe, The Times

“At times it’s hard to believe that there are only five actors in Charlotte Westenra’s production, so deftly do they create the different worlds that Mubarek and later his family, in their quest for justice, encountered.”
Dominic Cavendish, The Telegraph

“Gupta and Charlotte Westenra handling the mainly verbatim material with sensitivity and integrity. Their cast of five is stunning.”
Lynne Walker, The Independent

“Theatre is never better than when it’s of the moment. You can’t fail to be gripped by the chastening real life story that Gladiator Games tells.”
Mark Shenton. The Stage

“Charlotte Westenra’s production crackles with tension”
John Peters, Sunday Times


I feel both privileged and humble that I have been asked to contribute to tonight’s proceedings. GLADIATOR GAMES was (to borrow a theatrical term) a “bit part” in the events that we will be discussing tonight. I make plays. Pitted against work of Imran Khan and Partners, the Inquiry team and the Monitoring Group, it seems flippant or perhaps frivolous work to be involved in.

The nature of theatre is transient; you work on a play, you rehearse for an intense four weeks, open the show, close the show and drift off separately into other jobs. I worked with seven highly talented, industrious and intelligent actors on GLADIATOR GAMES; Nick Bagnall, Shiv Grewal, Paul Keating, Claire Lichie, Tom McKay, Ray Panthaki and Kevin Trainor. They are all jobbing actors and this was work they were hired to do. But I know I speak for all of them when I say that GLADIATOR GAMES became more than just another acting job for them.

It is quite something for a director to turn up backstage before a show to find this group of (mainly godless!) actors saying a prayer for Zahid. Every time we were sitting down to food outside the theatre walls we raised a glass in honour of him. There were times when I think it all became too much and tears started to flow both on and off the stage. Everyone felt emotionally connected with the story we were telling.

These feeling went further than the faces you saw on this stage here. The stage management team, Zahra Ahmadi (the Assistant Director), the Designer, the Lighting Designer and the crew all expressed both horror at the terrible events that led to Zahid’s death, and pride in helping to tell this story. Liz Craven, who was the production manager in Sheffield, thanked us for putting the play on because it had bought this story to her attention. Samuel West took a huge gamble when he offered a production to a first time director in his opening season at Sheffield Theatre. He did so because he was moved by the tragedy, and believed it was something that everyone needed to hear about.

This profession can so often be written off as shallow and lightweight but the company put pay to this suggestion. They showed extraordinary commitment to this play. And as I worked on it I realised that this commitment was bourn out of both anger and admiration.

The anger came first and foremost from the realisation that Zahid’s murder was entirely preventable. In the penultimate scene of GLADIATOR GAMES Tanika Gupta includes an extract from Nigel Giffin QC’s closing statements to the Inquiry. In it he lists 15 separate occasions where prison staff could have altered the course of events had they acted differently.

There was anger too at the then Home Secretary’s appeal against the ruling in favour of a Public Inquiry, thus prolonging the Mubarek family’s grief as they continued their fight for an Inquiry into their loved one’s death.

This anger we felt grew as a portrait of an under-resourced prison service, suffering from overcrowding and blighted by institutional racism emerged. And we felt angry and ashamed that we live in a society that takes so little notice of what goes on behind these locked doors but is quick to join in the chorus of “throw away the key” when stirred up by the tabloids.

However, as our anger grew, so to did our admiration for the people who fought so long and hard to get justice for Zahid. The passion, drive and commitment of Suresh Grover is an inspiration to us all. In a world that is so often filled with darkness, Suresh brings with him light and laughter, shows us that individuals can make a difference. Imran Khan, who calmly and determinedly fought on against the odds to secure a Public Inquiry, the lawyers who worked so hard in preparing the case, the M.P.’s who took up Zahid’s fight despite the fact that prison reform is not a “vote winner” – all of these people showed us that it is possible to effect change. They taught us not to accept the world as we find it, but to engage with it and work to make it a better place.

Above all, we felt deep admiration for the Mubarek family who have suffered so much and still fought on. Their dignity and their tenacity, coupled with their
extraordinary loss was something that each of us had to grapple with. It was their remarkable courage, which gave focus to the work we did on GLADIATOR GAMES. Shiv spoke for all of us when he said, “It was an honour to tell Zahid’s story, and an honour to have been allowed to tell his story.”

Indeed. I have been very privileged to have worked with Zahid’s uncle, Imtiaz over these last ten months. He allowed us into his life at a very stressful time so that we could begin to understand how much Zahid meant to him and his family. And he allowed us to take their very personal story to a wider audience. And this audience were saddened and angered by the story that they witnessed.

And it is in this way, through its power to move people by the injustices of the world around us, that I believe that theatre can be a platform for change. Shakespeare (the man who so perfectly fused the political with the personal in all his great plays) understood theatre’s responsibility to the world. It is the director Hamlet who first advised his troupe of actors that the purpose of playing “both at the first and now, was and is, to hold, as ‘twere the mirror up to nature.”

“The mirror up to nature.” Theatre can reflect the world as it stands. It can accurately and fearlessly report the hidden truths of our society. It can challenge perceived ideas. It can inform and enlighten. It can give voice to the disempowered and dispossessed.

Here at Theatre Royal Stratford East we ran a series of post-show talks at the end of each evening’s performance. This allowed the audience the space to voice their opinions and concerns about the events surrounding Zahid’s murder. Every night around 100 people stayed behind to express their disgust at the state of the prison service, to ask how these two young men where allowed to share a cell, to question why Zahid was in prison in the first place and to ask what steps, they, as audience members could take to ensure that such a tragedy never happens again.

The overwhelming response from the audience members of GLADIATOR GAMES showed me that people are not apathetic and that they do care about the Zahid’s of this world. It showed me that theatre can be a platform to voice these public concerns. Theatre has the potential to bring about social change through its power to affect personal revolutions, to unify an audience, to raise awareness over an issue and to educate. It can, in its own modest way provide an alternative text to those put out by the Daily Mail and Sun editors of this world. The tragedy of Zahid’s death moved so many people, and hopefully moved some of these people to action.