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Fringe review: Games by Henry Naylor

Adelaide Fringe

It is 1936 Berlin and two female German-Jewish athletes train feverishly for the chance to win gold at the ‘Nazi Olympics’ in Henry Naylor’s powerful new play. ★★★★

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British playwright Henry Naylor chooses significant moments in time to explore past events that also shed light on contemporary politics and attitudes. His new work is set in the lead-up to the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games, inspired by the true story of two young Jewish-German athletes and the racial prejudice they suffered under the Nazi regime.

Sophie Shad plays fencer Helene Mayer, who is extremely focused on winning as an individual and does not wish to be labelled, while Tessie Orange-Turner is feisty high jumper Gretel Bergmann, who is driven to win to negate Nazi propaganda about the superiority of the Aryan race.

Naylor’s words capture the intensity, motivation and dedication of an athlete at that level, as well as exposing the danger of fascism and how idealism can turn a nation’s thinking.

Under the direction of Louise Skaaning, the actors fill the stage with energy, ambition and conflict: Bergmann bounces with enthusiasm as she prepares to reach heights unknown by any other German, while Mayer maintains a steely gaze in her determination not to let politics distract her from her goal.

The drive to win gold provides dramatic material, and when coupled with fascists limiting the rights of individuals, it becomes even more powerful.

Games is about sporting games, political games and the game of life, as the two women are forced to decide what success means for them.

Although set in the 1930s, the play’s examination of the conflict created by opposing ideological beliefs gives it relevance today.

Naylor – whose previous Adelaide Fringe works include the acclaimed Borders and Echoes – has written yet another powerful and thought-provoking piece of drama which is brought to life by two talented performers.

Games is playing at Holden Street Theatres until March 16.

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