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Playing The Games

Published 31 July 2012

The Criterion theatre is joining Theatreland’s Olympic spirit with a double bill of that rarity in the West End, two new writing plays that look at the sporting event from very different perspectives.

First up is Adam Brace’s Congo-set Taking Part, a short and sweet drama featuring the equally sweet Lucky Henry, a Congolese swimmer with an Olympic dose of enthusiasm and blind-sighted optimism, but a less than winning personal best.

When an administrative error sees Russian coach Grigory turn up at his war-torn doorstep, Henry’s dreams of qualifying and making it to the London Athletes Village begin to look more likely – at least from his deluded point of view. But while has-been coach Grigory can only think of medals and glory, Henry is more concerned with raising the profile of the harrowing realities of life in his country.

Serge Cartwright’s After The Party follows, moving the action to a Stratford estate where best friends Sean and Ray find very different opportunities in the potentially life-changing event happening on their doorstep. While feckless soon-to-be father Sean buys a fast food van to make enough money from passing sports fans to fund his partner’s dream of a flat in the new development, Ray is more interested in cutting lines of cocaine with the burger flipper and getting the old Garage double act back together for a big shot DJ gig in Leyton.

While on the face of it the two plays couldn’t be more different, similar themes run through the sporting veins of both with the Olympic Games providing the potential to change every one of the characters’ lives. But while eternal youth Ray – whose love for boobs and booze would win him Gold if immaturity was a sport – may be full of the joys of capitalising on the event, Sean’s world-weary partner Chelle can only see it as a gateway for another failed scheme. Similarly, the doubtful, pessimistic Grigory can only sit stony-faced through Henry’s favourite Chariots Of Fire, while the hilariously blunt Henry sobs with emotion at the thought of achieving a similar – and entirely impossible – fate.

All, in Henry’s words, attempt to make the best of the situation, just in entirely different ways. Similarly the Criterion’s Playing The Games season has impressively capitalised on the event, offering theatre lovers and visitors to the city the chance to see timely new writing in a grander setting than such works usually find themselves, served up in tasty bite sized chunks that will take audiences back to the days of the BBC’s Play For Today.

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