by Tom McNab.
Arcola Theatre 27 Arcola Street E8 2DJ To 24 April
Mon-Sat 8pm Mat 24 April 3pm.
TICKETS: 020 7503 1646.
then Redbridge Drama Centre London E18.
27 April 8pm.
TICKETS: 020 8504 5451.
then Broxbourne Civic Hall Hoddesdon.
28 April 2010 7.30pm.
TICKETS: 01992 441946.
Runs 1hr 25min + interval + film extracts & discussion; total c2hr 30min.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 10 April.
Politics and races.
Thirty pieces of silver might have done for Judas Iscariot, but Adolf Hitler wanted thirty pieces of gold. In return for overcoming his hostility to the expense of holding the 1936 Olympics in Berlin (something set-up by the preceding government), Hitler demanded his propaganda minister Goebbels ensure Germany win thirty gold medals, ensuring the greater glory of the Nazi state.
Tom McNab’s play explores the shadows behind the infamous Olympiad, so much of his story takes place before the year itself. Nor is Germany the only state marked-out for dishonourable mention. Black American athlete Jesse Owens soon became the icon for opposition to Hitler’s Aryanism. And Owens was a remarkable runner. But he still had to use the back-door of his hotel on returning to the USA.
Meanwhile, back in the Reich the Establishment figures setting-up the Olympics receive letters from the regime – a Jewish ancestor here, relation there, taints them. And there’s a battle of wits to enter at least a few, outstanding Jewish athletes for the games.
McNab’s a sports historian and knows his stuff. And it’s the ‘stuff’ that gives 1936 its interest. The writing is usually efficient, but flat-footed theatrically. Hitler and Goebbels chat like an English Prime Minister and his adviser, which even in relaxed moments seems unlikely.
Jenny Lee’s production works hard to maximise the script’s dramatic credibility. There’s a fine opening, with a sense of black-and-white film, as the characters enter in Howard Hudson’s shadowy lighting. And Jim Creighton gives American journalist William Shirer (who later wrote a monumental volume on the Third Reich.) a sense of urgency, providing a dramatic veneer over the bareness of the character as merely an historical name attached to the author’s scene-linking mouthpiece.
Still, with more Olympics approaching, the material might be enough. And the evening concludes that way, with several minutes of Leni Riefenstahl’s 4-hour Olympiad film (she appears in the play, her actions shown without her behaviour being fully explored) and a chance to raise questions and discuss the story with the author and cast members.
Oh, and Germany won thirty-three gold medals in 1936.
William Shirer: Jim Creighton.
Theodore Lewald/Coach Snyder/Judge Jeremiah Mahoney: Jonathan Battersby.
Carl Diem/Count Henri Baillet Latour: David Baron.
Adolf Hitler/General Charles Sherrill: Tim Frances.
Joseph Goebbels: Chris Myles.
Christine Muller/Gretel Bergmann: Josie Taylor.
Werner March/Edwin Bergmann/Avery Brundage: Peter Harding.
Leni Riefenstahl/Miss Goldstein: Kate Cook.
Jesse Owens: Rolan Bell.
Director: Jenny Lee.
Designer: Kevin Jenkins.
Lighting: Howard Hudson.
Sound: Tom Gibbons.
Assistant director: Mel Hillyard.
Assistant designer: Jinwoo Kim.