Games (3 stars)

This article is from 2018


credit: Steve Ullathorne

Two Jewish sportswomen choose to hide their origins at the 1936 Olympics

Henry Naylor's Games details the story of two Jewish athletes at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, and specifically how Hitler gained and manipulated popular support through sport.

From the Redbeard theatre company, Games tells of fencer Helene Mayer and high jumper Gretel Bergmann, played by Avital Lvova and Tessie Orange-Turner respectively. Both Jewish, they strove for places in the German Olympic team, even if their racial origins were not publicised by the German press. Mayer, in particular, was held up as an example of the 'master-race', and given the kind of financial support by the Nazis that track athlete Bergmann could only have dreamt of; both women fell foul of history in different ways, and they get potent voices here.

Historical drama often views history through the prism of today's politics, but Fringe-regular Naylor goes too far; a passage overtly comparing Hitler to Trump uses phraseology that's anachronistic for 1936 ('Make Germany Great Again') and drew audible groans from the audience. The story of Mayer and Bergmann has an innate power that doesn't require such virtue signalling; Trump's relationship to sports and athletes will undoubtedly make an interesting play one day, but Berlin 1936 isn't the place or time.

But what powers Games over the finish line is the two performances; Orange-Turner gives her subject a spikey, cynical venom, while Lvova is pitch-perfect as a gifted but blinkered sportswoman, fooling herself that she can set politics aside in a fevered world where people and gestures are quickly labelled. It's right that we should be so preoccupied with why Nazism flourished; with a few caveats, Naylor's play drills down successfully on how self-interest provides fertile ground for fascism.

Gilded Balloon Teviot, until 27 Aug (not 15), 3.30pm, £12.50–£13.50 (£11.50–£12.50).

Games by Henry Naylor

  • 3 stars

Gilded Balloon and Redbeard Theatre present… Europe is fractured; economies faltering. Anti-Semitism and right-wing populism are surging. The world's biggest sporting event is threatened with a boycott. The year is 1936, and fencer Helene Mayer has been selected as the Nazi's token Jewish athlete for the Berlin Games. But…