Sunday, 9 December 2018

REVIEW: Borders And Games - The Arcola Theatre, London.


'Borders' & 'Games' are two one-act plays that come to the Arcola this month with heavy-weight reviews and awards. Borders won many of its awards from the 2017 Edinburgh Fringe Festival and has toured internationally to much acclaim. Playwright, Henry Naylor is not afraid to take on highly charged, political stories which now more than ever, as we wave a complicated goodbye to Europe, we need to remind us of the power of tolerance and understanding.

'Borders' is the story of two artists - a Western photographer – who after taking a rare picture of Bin Laden – is catapulted to stardom. The other is an anonymous Syrian graffiti artist, who uses her art to bring down the regime.

Graham O’Mara and Deniz Arixenas perform the former and latter in this 70-minute piece with absolute conviction. Naylor’s script is tight and lean and structured to keep the action bouncing between the two stories like a terrifying bouncing bomb. Naylor’s years as a comedy writer brings much needed relief from the overarching sense of impending doom. There is skilled plotting and the moving denouement leaves some audience members breathless.

After a short interval, the 'Games' begin. Well, the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games, that is. This is the true stories of two female German-Jewish athletes – Helen Mayer and Gretel Bergmann – who faced unspeakable prejudice in their bid to compete for their country.

Sophie Shad and Tessie Orange-Turner play the two athletes and, much the same as the first play, tell the interweaving stories in monologue to the audience. The Holocaust is well-trodden subject matter. Playwrights and film makers have tackled this disturbing period of history again and again so it is a difficult task to say anything new. But Naylor’s skill, as with Borders, is his ability to crack open the individual story, the human endeavour and that relatability is clear and compelling.

Both productions make use of repetition and poetic language. There are jokes and punchline aplenty but never at the expense of the story.

The direction, by Danish-born Louise Skaaning is un-fussy and confidently makes use of the awkward space in Studio 1. The lighting design, by Vasilis Apostolatos is beyond exquisite.

It might be quite an ask for some to sit through these two hard-hitting shows in one evening. But theatres like the Arcola need audiences so see them over the course of two evenings, grab a drink, take friends. However you decide to see these shows, you will not be disappointed. They are completely riveting.

Reviewer - Lucia Cox
on - 7/12/18

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