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Theatre Review Worthy cause derailed by lack of dramatic momentum

A tick-box approach to real concerns and nodding to the crowd disappoint, writes MARY CONWAY

Fair Play
Bush Theatre

 

FAIR Play, the new work by Ella Road famed for her success with The Phlebotomist, takes us into a very current, but rarely explored, world of top-class athletics. Two young women, Ann and Sophie, meet in training, bond and spur each other on, only to see their burgeoning prowess – and with it their relationship – sabotaged by the unfairness of life and factors beyond their control.

It exposes the important role of luck as well as graft in competitive activity.

The play is performed in the round; the stage is adorned with fitness apparatus; the floor is a running track, and much of the early part of the action involves the two characters in brief demonstrations of fitness training and the act of running.

Visually, designer Naomi Dawson creates memorable imagery and the athleticism of the two girls is exquisitely demonstrated.

The story, however, takes a while to get going and, when it does, seems to surprise us with sudden pieces of unexpected information rather than enabling it to emerge from character and situation.

Whether the play is about youth and friendship, difference and conflict, the challenges of competitive sport or simply the general art of living is unclear, and only when an issue of fierce current debate kicks in do we seem to understand the purpose of the play and what exactly we are engaging with.

This, unfortunately, happens too late to enable dramatic momentum to carry us along.

It’s fair to say that the kinds of discrimination described are hugely significant, and were real and meaningful to the diverse audience present on the night, who were vocal in their support.  Also it is good to see the Bush attracting such a young and animated crowd.

But the play chose to approach its many different concerns in a tick-box kind of way, nodding to the crowd with allusions they would recognise, rather than leading them into a new and insightful understanding of what was at stake.

Much depended on the characterisation. I noticed when NicK King (Ann) and Charlotte Beaumont (Sofie) came on for the curtain call they sparkled and shone and communicated exuberantly with the audience – something they seemed unable to do in character because of an enforced stylisation and a continuous flow of gabbled conversation that carried on at the same pace and on the same note for far too long.

I’d like to have seen these two splendid young actors given more freedom to fly.

Monique Touko directs the action and moves the play along. But, despite the huge implications of the realities described, something of the heart is missing.

Runs until Jan 22 2022. Box Office: 020 8743 5050.

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