A NEW play inspired by the true story of Julia Lee, who survived and thrived against the odds to become one of the first women to referee men’s rugby league, comes to Batley’s Mount Pleasant ground this week.
‘Ref!’, produced by arts and social change charity Space2, is a fictionalised account of Huddersfield-based Julia’s life, written by playwright Sarah Jane Dickenson.
It follows the story of a girl called Alex as she tackles the status quo in order to prove that she is as good as, if not better than, the men she works alongside.
The play is part of a larger project called ‘Crossing the Line’ which aims to uncover and share the stories of women connected to rugby league.
The project will work in partnership with RL clubs and foundations in Hull and West Yorkshire, taking the theatre performance and interactive community workshops into the community.
Dawn Fuller, strategic director of Space2, said: “The performances of Ref! are a catalyst for meeting and chatting with women who’ve been involved with rugby league in Hull, Batley, Castleford and Featherstone over decades, bring their rugby league stories to the wider community and support positive development with local women.”
Julia, who recently became the first woman to receive the Lord Lofthouse Award for services to rugby league, is quietly proud that her story will finally be told.
“I’m excited because it enables me to use my own experiences to support other women to build their confidence and skills to overcome barriers to succeed,” she said. I’m not just a survivor – I thrive on what I do and I want them to as well.”
Julia retired in 2000 due to a back injury and became a director of community projects and events for rugby league in 2012. She eventually managed to bring about changes that she could only have dreamed about as a young woman.
“Telling my story will allow me to reach out to women who still experience discrimination in their everyday lives, and help them realise that they are in control and can realise their true potential,” she said.
The play will be linked to workshops where members of the public will be encouraged to bring along stories and memorabilia relating to rugby league.
All the stories and memories that people share will be part of a wider collection of artefacts and archives at Heritage Quay and the National Rugby League Museum due to open in Bradford in 2021.
‘Ref!’ is suitable for ages 15 and above and will be performed at the Fox’s Biscuits Stadium on Friday February 8 at 7pm.
Tickets cost £5 in advance or £7 on the door – go to www.csi2012.co.uk/bookings.