Gilded Balloon and Redbeard Theatre in Assoc. with Holden Street Theatres. Holden Street Theatres. 13 Feb 2019
Henry Naylor is a gifted story-teller.
That’s a lavish and timeless compliment. And, once again, he’s a five-star story-teller at the Adelaide Fringe.
Following the triumphs of Borders, Angel, Echoes, and The Collector, he brings Games - another highly political play based on historical truths.
The “Games” are the Olympic Games of 1936 which were held in Berlin and for which, under the Nazi regime, Germany’s Jewish athletes had been marginalised and banned from state training facilities and thus any chance to gaining a competitive edge.
To flesh out his riveting story, Naylor has selected two Jewish female athletes of the day, a fencer called Helene Mayer and a high-jumper called Gretel Bergman, and traced the travails they might have faced under the escalating Nazi persecution. He has breathed life and character into them, setting them in unlikely but historically credible conflict. Helene is the prim, smug established champion, a local pin-up adored as The Little Hay. People keep her statue on their mantlepieces. Certainly Gretel does. She is a proud Jew and highly motivated by the idea of proving Jewish supremacy in sport. Helene, on the other hand, wishes to deflect from her Jewish background and identify herself exclusively as a fencer. Gretel is aghast at this and the two spar on the subject over the course of several years as Hitler’s reign grows stronger and the racial divisions and Jewish persecution strengthens around them.
Playwright Naylor's supreme skill shines both with his astute use of language and in establishing dramatic tension as this story evolves. Most importantly, he has created two complex characters who command the audience’s interest and emotions. Of course, the two actors, Sophie Shad as Helene and Tessie Orange-Turner as Gretel, are a vital ingredient in fleshing out those characters and bringing Naylor’s play to vital life. Their performances ring with passion and clarity. It is a riveting piece of theatre.
Directed by Louise Skaaning, the production is staged in the intimacy of The Arch theatre where the high stage is dominated by long red banners of the Nazi ilk draped over black curtains. Simple and dramatic. Shad is neat and restrained, wearing a crisp white fencing uniform, her blonde hair in looped plaits. In track shorts, long-limbed Orange-Turner is all passion and pent-up energy. Adversity has fired her on a mission. The performers switch and swap, neatly patching together the narrative. The suspense grows. Soundscape throbs through the theatre. Smoke hisses forth. And, the denouement descends with the inevitability of history and, perhaps, the underlying suggestion that there are no guarantees that other evil regimes may be lurking in the wings of this troubled world.
It is a Fringe must-see.
When: 13 Feb to 16 Mar
Where: Holden Street Theatres