2019 Fringe Festival Review: Games by Henry Naylor

Image courtesy of Adelaide Fringe

What: Games by Henry Naylor

Where: The Arch at Holden Street Theatres

When: See website for all dates

Starring: Sophie Shad and Tessie Orange-Turner

Director: Louise Skaaning

Producer: David Dey

Lights: Vasilis Apostolates 

Stage: Eric Morel

Writer: Henry Naylor 

Based on the real lives of athletes Helene Mayer (Shad) and Gretel Bergmann (Orange-Turner), Naylor traces these two women’s struggle to make their mark on the sporting world. We witness their fight as they face trials and discrimination because of their Jewish heritage during the rise of Adolf Hitler. 

We shudder at the overt references and comparison of Hitler and Donald Trump. Contrasts are not only drawn from their style of leadership but their hardline policies against minorities. This shadowing in such blatant context is a sad reminder of the backward political landscape that we are experiencing today. 

Observing the Olympic endeavours of these Jewish girls allowed the underlying theme of identity to play out effectively. This landscape allows questions to arise as to what they are truly competing for. It is illustrated to us that what they are championing for is symbolic of something much greater than a mere gold medal. Particularly through the character of Helene Mayer, her origins make her question whether she identifies as German, Jewish, or simply an athlete. Her crisis in finding one’s sense of self, conveys the enormous weight and expectation of representing Jewish people in a troubled political time.

The effectiveness of the performance was found in the simplicity of its presentation. The bare stage, minimal but effective lighting and vapour machine effects, allowed the prowess of the acting and evocative nature of the script take centre stage. I have great admiration for Naylor’s writing, he has created an incredibly rich and moving script that successfully left me with tears in my eyes multiple times. 

Shad and Orange-Turner were an excellent casting choice. They were able to exhibit monologues that effectively conjured up these athletes’ stories and provide vivid imagery for the audience. I particularly enjoyed the sequence when Orange-Turner described competing in the high-jump event. I felt like I was right there – running fast, with heavy breath in my lungs, the roar of the stadium, but in actuality she was standing stationary on stage.

I cannot fault this performance. It is brilliant in every right, and I highly recommend it to everyone. An experience I will never forget that has left a lasting impression on my mind.

5/5 stars

– by Rachel Wong

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