Games – (rating 4/5)
Henry Naylor has been called one of Britain’s best new playwrights, nominated for 33 international awards in the last three and a half years, several of which he has won. Games is his new play and it looks likely to increase his tally.
It focuses on two athletes preparing for the 1936 German Olympics, held under Hitler’s reign. Both are German and Jewish. Helene Mayer was a fencing champion who took the view that politics and sport should not mix, while the jumper Gretel Bergmann, in this production at least, was far more politically aware.
We see how Mayer was initially an inspiration for Bergmann and how both women had realistic prospects, of winning Gold. Hitler’s anti-Jewish policies severely dented their chances, but it was only Bergmann for whom they represented the fatal blow when she was not selected for the team.
Mayer, perhaps because of she had mixed heritage, was allowed to compete and her insistence on sport and politics remaining separate was severely tested. Winning became the biggest statement she could make, and even that may not have been enough to satisfy her critics.
The play is a fascinating exploration of the careers of the two women. Avital Lvova as Mayer and Tessie Orange-Turner as Bergmann, bring to life their individual characters as well as the conflict between them.
The script is tightly written and sharply focused, and while it occasionally feels like it is stating facts rather than having the two women living them, it is still a powerful piece of storytelling.
Gilded Balloon Teviot, until 26 August