Long red banners against a black backdrop remind us of stadiums, Nazi propaganda and tragedy. Into this bleak set, two athletes arrive to take us on a journey of training, competing, winning and losing. The sportspeople are Jewish-German and this is 1936 Berlin. There is much more at stake than a ribbon or medal.
Sophie Shad and Tessie Orange-Turner in Games by Henry Naylor at Adelaide Fringe
Games is the latest offering from Fringe favourite, writer, Henry Naylor and, as expected, Naylor offers a lot more than a race to the finish line. Some exceptional one-liners dot this dialogue-heavy tale. In this play peppered with prejudice, Naylor opts for subtlety rather than 60 minutes of outrage, inviting us to question what we would do in a similar situation.
Well-timed dialogue common to current political discourse, forces our view to the present, rather than boxing the heinous events into a time period in which we did not live and can barely comprehend. It is clever and makes this show, heavy with segregation, bias, extremism and injustice, a relevant and necessary reminder to learn from the mistakes of the past.
Sophie Shad as Olympic fencing hopeful, Helene Mayer, is utterly convincing to the point of being, at times, unlikeable. It’s a bitter pill to swallow as we like our sporting heroes to be perfect. Tessie Orange-Turner as high jumper Gretel Bergmann brings an incredible energy to the stage. Her character’s passion and naivety juxtaposes Mayer’s beautifully.
The pair are the show’s sole occupants and ably hold our attention through the gritty, atmospheric performance, even when we guess that the hoped for victory is unlikely.
Direction by Louise Skaaning is effective in its efficiency. The presence of both characters on stage (even when only one is the focus) is well conceived and the moments when the duo’s dialogue is shared are noteworthy, bringing the stories together for the briefest moments, before again separately going on.
The tale of the earlier years has an excellent rhythm, but the reunion ending feels hurried and incongruous. The stature and athleticism of the older characters is undiminished and they seem to lack the slowness that comes from time passing. It is of small consequence.
Games is a powerful intrigue exploring the politics in sport, the sport in politics and the real price of victory.