Writer: Tom McNab
Director: Jenny Lee
Reviewer: Deborah Klayman
The Public Reviews Rating:
A very timely piece, Tom McNab’s play examines the period from Germany winning their bid to host the 1936 Olympics through to 1948, when journalist-cum-narrator William Shirer surveys post-war Germany during the Berlin Airlift. With the political machinations of Hitler and Goebbels on one side and power-hungry Olympic committee members Avery Brundage and Count Latour on the other, the story is recounted by Shirer through a range of flashbacks that show the important moments in the history of arguably the most famous games since their inception.
Possibly the only play in the cultural Olympiad to actually concern an Olympic games, 1936 has all the right ideas but sadly fails to deliver them in an engaging way. There is a multitude of interesting information conveyed throughout, but despite being well acted it lacks dramatic flair or human interaction, meaning it becomes a watchable history lesson rather than a gripping piece of theatre. Real life characters Jesse Owens (Cornelius Macarthy) and Gretel Bergmann (Lauren St Paul) become sidelined by the story of the IOC members and their personal agendas, allowing the audience to learn much about the backroom politics of the games but giving little of the experience these persecuted athletes had competing under the hostile Nazi regime that saw them both as Untermenschen.
Alongside the strong performances from the cast, particularly John Webber as Goebbels and Hannah Young as Leni Riefenstahl, 1936 does raise some very salient points. It very cleverly juxtaposes the treatment of the German Jews with the attitude to black people in America in the 30s, drawing a parallel that most would not think of. This is brought home by the fact that, on returning home to a tickertape parade, Owens was made to enter his hotel through the kitchens as black people were not permitted to use the front entrance.
Likewise, Jewish Bergmann was deemed unfit and removed from the German squad two weeks before the games despite equalling the German high-jump record. These facts could have been shown in the run of the play, however they were instead relayed in Shirer’s closing monologue, losing any dramatic effect. Ostensibly an intelligent piece of writing, 1936 would benefit from script development and stronger direction to give it the chance to reach the heights its story deserves to attain.
Photo: Sheila Burnett
Runs until 5th August1936 - Sadler's Well, London,
Tags: 1936, 2012, AAU, Attic OlympicArts, Cornelius Macarthy, Goebbels, Gretel Bergmann, Hannah Young, Hitler, IOC, Jenny Lee, Jesse Owens, John Webber, Lauren St Paul, Leni Riefenstahl, Nazi Germany, Olympics, Sadler's Wells, Tom McNab