Former athlete Kriss Akabusi, comedian Mark Watson and writer, presenter and actor Stephen Fry will all appear on the Criterion theatre stage this summer as part of its Playing The Games season.
The season of lunchtime, afternoon and late evening performances will run between 26 July and 12 August, combining interviews, new plays, music and comedy.
Akabusi, 400 metre hurdle gold medallist Edwin Moses and 10,000 metre gold medallist Haile Gebreselassie are three of the sport champions who will be interviewed in lunchtime events at the West End theatre, while Watson and regular QI panellist Alan Davies are already confirmed for the late night Friday and Saturday, and 19:30 Sunday slots.
The most intriguing aspect of the season, though, could well be the world premieres of two plays by emerging playwrights, which will be launched straight onto a West End stage through the Playing The Games afternoon performances.
Serge Cartwright’s After The Party is the tale of two 30-somethings from Stratford who once seemed on the brink of a career in music but have since seen the dream slip away. With the world arriving on their doorstep, opportunity knocks once more, but opening the door will involve dealing with a few home truths.
Adam Brace’s Taking Part focuses on an Olympic athlete, the first Congolese swimmer ever to qualify for the Olympics. Everyone loves an underdog, but what happens when that underdog gets too wise?
Both playwrights have previously worked with the Criterion’s Producer, Sam Hodges, when he was the Artistic Director of the HighTide Festival, where Cartwright’s Moscow Live and Brace’s Stovepipe were previously staged.
Speaking about the season, Fry, who is also Chairman of the Criterion, said: “I am very proud to announce a programme like none other across the West End to coincide with the Olympic Games. We want the Criterion theatre to be at the very heart of London’s cultural goings-on for tourists and Londoners alike. It’s unheard of to be commissioning and producing new plays by unknown writers especially for a West End theatre, and Playing The Games puts them at the very core of what we do, with world-famous comedians, sportsmen and women, and musicians thrown in for good measure.”
Playing The Games is the latest initiative used by the Criterion to take full advantage of its theatre. While hit comedy The 39 Steps continues to play eight performances a week, the Criterion continues to programme other events around the show. Next month will feature the regular Critics at the Criterion event, in which a trio of critics discuss London’s new shows, a lunchtime interview with Sweeney Todd leading man Michael Ball, Lesley Sharp and Johnny Flynn recreating a radio play live on stage and literary event Book Slam.
"We want the Criterion theatre to be at the very heart of London’s cultural goings-on for tourists and Londoners alike."