Running for a Cause
A true story of conviction and determination, Chariots of Fire, now on stage at London’s Grand Theatre, offers a fascinating look at a moment in history. Set in the 1920s, it tells of two athletic runners in Britain, both with Olympic dreams. Eric Liddell is a devout Christian from Scotland, who fits in his running around his preaching. He runs as a means of reaching out to others, so he can give them the message of Christianity. Harold Abrahams is a Jewish student who runs to show others he is better than the prejudice he faces, and also to impress his immigrant father.
This play, of course, is based on the 1981 British movie of the same name, which won the Academy award for Best Picture. The iconic instrumental music will take you back to the beautiful scene with the runners on the beach.
While the play can’t put the audience on the beach, the Grand has done an excellent job of taking theatre-goers to the track for various races. Sometimes the athletes are running on the rotating stage, other times they take to the track which ramps down from the stage and circles around the seats in the audience and back up on the stage. The lighting works well to move attention to the various running locations. Credit for the stunning lighting and impressive set design goes to Gerald King and Bretta Gerecke respectively.
Harry Judge gives us a driven Harold Abrahams, who puts his running ahead of his academics at Cambridge. Judge shows that Abrahams is a ruthless competitor, made more determined by the anti-Semitism he faces. He also gives us a glimpse of his softer side as his relationship with Sybil Evers (Anwyn Musico) develops.
Similarly, Wade Bogert-O’Brien gives us a zealous Eric Liddell. Not only is he devoted to his religion and preaching, he is also dedicated to running. He tries to get his sister Jennie Liddell (Erin Breen) to understand how his two passions are intertwined. She sees the running as simply showing off, which is sinful in her eyes. The climax of the story comes when Liddell refuses to run in a heat at the Olympics on a Sunday, which he views as God’s day. Bogert-O’Brien makes us understand Liddell’s strong principles.
There is some delightful humour for the Canadian audience. Eric’s future wife, Florence Mackenzie, is Canadian, but when she and Eric meet at the Paris Olympics, she has to explain to everyone she meets that she is not American. Florence is played by a charming Ellen Denney.
All the running makes it a high energy show, but at times the races seem to go on a little longer than necessary and the audience is eager for the story to continue.
Even more impressive is the singing, which is outstanding for a play (as opposed to a musical). The hymns, sung by the young men in the university choir, have beautiful harmonies. In addition, Musico possesses an outstanding soprano voice, and she along with Denney and Breen, make a wonderful Three Little Maids in The Mikado at their Gilbert & Sullivan show.
In an age where we seem to be surrounded by hypocrisy, it is refreshing to hear a story of conviction, and learn of a time when people upheld their beliefs. That’s the real story of Chariots of Fire. It’s much more than just running, making it a very worthwhile evening of theatre.
Chariots of Fire continues at the Grand Theatre, London until May 5. Tickets are available at the Grand box office at 672-8800 or 1-800-265-1593 or visit www.grandtheatre.com.
Photo: (Left)Harry Judge as Harold Abrahams and Wade Bogert-O’Brien as Eric Liddell in Chariots of Fire. (Right)Running ensemble. Photo by Christina Kuefner.
Chariots of Fire
Stage adaption by Make Bartlett
Based on the motion picture, screenplay by Colin Welland
Directed by Dennis Garnhum
Performed by Wade Bogert-O’Brien, Harry Judge, Erin Breen, Ellen Denny, Fraser Elsdon, Alex Furber, Kyle Gatehouse, Anwyn Musico, Anand Rjaram, et al.
The Grand Theatre, London
April 17 to May 5, 2018
Reviewed by Mary Alderson