By Yona Eagle
Perhaps the greatest thrill of the fringe is the excitement of racing from one show to the next and as I continue my evening, the emotion from Build A Rocket still not dissipated and now compounded by The Archive of Educated Heart, I sit ready and eagerly awaiting Games at the Holden Street Theatre.
I have followed Henry Naylor since the fiat show presented by the savvy Holden St echoes
Henry is known for taking hot spot issues and turning them into one hour spectacles of intense & provocative theatre which leave one discussing & contemplating them way past the duration of the play.
This time he has chosen to explore the intertwining of sports & politics through his 2 protagonists; the Aryan looking Helene Maÿer played by Sophie Shad, who won the Olympic medal for fencing in 1928, and the dark haired Jewish high jumper Gretel Bergman played by Tessie Orange Turner.
Sophie, looking like an innocent Heide with her blonde plaits, is indeed herself the granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor. Helene protests on many occasions that she is an athlete and not interested in politics which she believe have no place in sport.
Yet Helene will go down in history as the pawn the IOC used to show the USA Olympic team that Nazi Germany were allowing Jewish athletes to participate.
Helene may be their token Jew but only her father is Jewish and so she is only Jewish in Nuremberg rules and not in the rules of Judaism.
Margaret as Gretel will change her name when she migrates after the war. Bergman comes across as the stronger personality of the two women. Despite wanting to achieve at sport, she feels she is obliged to represent all the Jews being downtrodden in Germany.
On the other hand, Helene is self serving. More than standing for any particular group, she wants another medal at all cost. Afterall, she doesn’t really identify with being Jewish and plainly tells us she doesn’t have a Jewish heart or soul, nor does she have the Jewish race in her mind.
This is highlighted in the scene where Helene believes she has won the gold medal but it is too premature.
However, on the medal dais she raises her arm in Nazi salute - to the horror of Gretel and probably all the other Jews worldwide.
Naylor’s great achievement lies in how plays even-handedly he plays this. She has been honest with us all along and if Gretel wants to protect any persons it will be her own family.
Behind this action are three red flags making up the set. I definitely felt the set was well thought out – to place the black swastika on the flags would have been at once too obvious but also too heavy in its projections of how we as an audience should think and feel. Our history books have taught us how to respond to a swastika and as such, the absence of this stark sign was wise and artistic. It allowed us as an audience to project and consider how other athletes, and people in general, would respond in similar predicaments.
Unfortunately, Helene died at only 43 years old of cancer and had kept no diary. As such, we will never know what she thought…
It may have been more interesting to know how Sophie felt raising her hand in a Nazi salute.
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.