THE TRANSATLANTIC MAGAZINE
At the Gielgud Theatre, London.
Booking until October 11, 2012
Bring me my bow of burning gold;
Bring me my Chariot of fire!
For those who have not seen the Oscar winning 1981 film, Chariots of Fire is the story of two runners, Eric Liddell and Harold Abrahams (here played by Jack Lowden and James McArdle), who during the 1924 Olympics want to become the fastest men on earth.
Liddell is willing to ‘run in God’s name’ until he learns the Olympic 100 meter race is taking place on a Sunday, something his faith won’t allow. The Olympic Committee is furious at his decision and even the Prince of Wales can’t convince him to run. He also has to prove to his family he isn’t running for the glory of his own ego.
The other runner is Abrahams, a wealthy Jewish student at Cambridge who is accused by the dons of not having the Corinthian (gentlemanly) spirit. The determined and hardnosed Abrahams dismisses it by remarking his accusers have the ‘archaic values of the prep school playground.’
The third stars are the well-trained ensemble who race around Miriam Buether’s brilliantly designed set as if they were athletes, not actors. Buether has turned the set into a series of circles and the main acting area is equipped with a revolving stage.
McArdle portrays Abrahams’ ruthless determination with the skill of an actor whom we shall be hearing more of. Lowden comes across too much the English gentlemen and lacks at times that Christian conviction that later took Liddell to China as a missionary before he died in a Japanese concentration camp after giving his place to another person when offered a release.
Pride, self-sacrifice and courage of one’s convictions. It’s what we want our Olympic athletes to feel. The rest of the ensemble, especially the loveable and cranky trainer Sam Mussabini (Nicholas Woodeson), are all excellent. Director Edward Hall hasn’t missed a beat and I have no doubt Chariots of Fire is in for a long run. Yes, it played on my emotions, but when I left the theatre I was humming the famous theme tune originally written by Vangelis for the film. A great and complex play? No. A wonderful two and a half hours? Absolutely.