Fringe Review: Games by Henry Naylor

Sport and race politics collide in Henry Naylor’s play about two Jewish sportswomen in Hitler’s Germany.

A shadow of one person loomed over the recent Superbowl: Colin Kaepernick. The NFL quarterback put race politics in the spotlight when he took a knee instead of standing for the national anthem in 2016 to highlight police brutality and racial inequality. Kaepernick paid for his political stand. He wasn’t offered a new contract but his act made him a global symbol for highlighting inequality. At last weekend’s NRL Indigenous All Stars vs Maori All Stars game, the Indigenous team didn’t sing Advance Australia Fair. “It doesn’t represent myself and my family,” captain Cody Walker said after the game about the divisive national anthem.

In Henry Naylor’s Games, two Jewish athletes in Nazi Germany both face a grueling decision as they prepare for the Olympics: do they make a stand or do they let their athleticism do the talking?

Sophie Shad plays a single-minded Helene Mayer, a prim and proper fencer who is the darling of Germany after she won gold at the 1928 Olympics. On a school tour, Mayer meets an up-and-coming star of track and field Gretel Bergmann whose family has a statue of Mayer in their house, such is her fame, especially in the Jewish community. Bergmann gets two bits of advice from Mayer: pick one sport to concentrate on and let her sport do the talking. “I am just a sportsperson,” Mayer often answers when asked about her Jewish heritage.

Bergmann (played with dynamic rigour by Tessie Orange-Turner) initially follows her hero’s advice but circumstances change as Germany becomes unsafe for Jews in the lead-up to the Berlin Olympics of 1936.

Energetically directed by Louise Skaaning, Games is another politically-charged hit from English playwright Henry Naylor. Naylor, who is best known for his Arabian Nightmares series (The Collectors, Angel, Borders and Echoes), is Fringe theatre’s safest bet, as Games, like his Arabian Nightmares tetralogy, throws a serious political punch in an entertaining 60 minutes of action-packed theatre that has you hooked from the opening scene to the last.

Games – in the most extreme of times – shows there is more to sport than just winning gold, as athletes who make a stand in uneasy circumstances deserve our applause and more.

Games by Henry Naylor
Until Saturday, March 16
Holden Street Theatres, The Arch

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