Review: Games by Henry Naylor

In Nazi Germany, two athletes struggle with their conflicting identities

theatre review (edinburgh) | Read in About 2 minutes
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Games by Henry Naylor
Published 08 Aug 2018

In 1936, Berlin hosted the Olympic Games. Hitler was in power and Jewish Germans were having their rights and freedoms eroded. Henry Naylor’s new play examines identity as both an athlete and Jewish person under a tyrannical regime, which effectively inspires personal reflection on what to sacrifice for the sake of the greater good.

Based on real people, Avital Lvova plays fencer Helene Mayer and Tessie Orange-Turner is high jumper Gretel Bergmann. Both women were Jewish. Bergmann was invited to try out for a place on the German Olympic team of 1936, but by then Jewish people were barred from training facilities and sports clubs. Mayer was slightly older and had moved to America to train, but had to choose whether to accept the invitation to represent Germany at the Games. She was half-Jewish, and had previously won Olympic gold.

Naylor’s script is largely two interweaving monologues narrating the women’s experiences. There are several moments where the characters meet. The first is when Mayer visits Bergmann’s school as part of a government programme to inspire young people. The introverted, solitary Mayer often comes across as cold, but Lvova gives her a steely focus. Orange-Turner is fierce and fighty, with an angry desire for change underpinning her actions. Their performances, in combination with an inquisitive, thematically complex script, make this an impressively polished production with slick parallels to the resurrection of fascism today.