|1936, Lilian Baylis Theatre, review|
|Written by news desk - telegraph.co.ukm|
The Olympic drama 1936 demonstrates that when it comes to art, good intentions are simply not enough, writes Jane Shilling.
The programme notes to this play by Tom McNab announce the playwright to be “a Renaissance Man, spanning sport and the arts in a unique manner”. McNab was an official Olympic observer and coach to various Olympic teams as well as “bringing from obscurity [the athletes] Daley Thompson and Greg Rutherford”. He is the author of innumerable dramas and best-selling works of fiction and non-fiction.
Few playwrights, in short, are better qualified to create a drama about the Olympics. McNab’s play explores the international tensions surrounding the Berlin Olympic games held in 1936, as observed by the American journalist William Shirer.
Clad in the American newsman’s indispendable garb of trenchcoat and trilby, Ryan McCluskey as Shirer provides a linking narrative for McNab’s account of the Berlin Olympics, beginning with the moment in 1933 when German Olympics organisers get the call from the IOC confirming that the Games would be held in Berlin.
Their exhilaration proves shortlived. The IOC vote took place before Hitler’s rise to power in 1933 and the Fuhrer was dubious about the value of the event.
Persuaded by his propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbels, that the Games would provide a spectacular showcase for the virtues of Nazism, Hitler agreed that the Games should proceed — with, naturally, a complete absence of non-Aryan athletes among the German participants.
The ensuing international controversy, the possibility of a boycott by the United States, and the fact that African-American opinion was in favour of participation, makes resonant material.
But McNab’s approach is curiously tone-deaf. Good drama allows its audience to see the patterns beneath the surface of events. McNab with his leaden editorialising and sententious peroration (“Maybe we couldda done things differently”), obscures rather than reveals the pattern.
Director Jenny Lee can do little with her thankless material, but clumsy attempts to represent the athletic performances of the sprinter Jesse Owens (Cornelius Macarthy) drew sniggers from the audience.
McNab’s drama means well, but you could hardly find a more eloquent demonstration of the harsh truth that when it comes to art, good intentions are simply not enough.