Review: CHARIOTS OF FIRE (London, Ont.)

by Lynn on May 2, 2018

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Grand Theatre, London, Ont.

Stage adaptation by Mike Bartlett

Based on the Enigma Productions Limited motion picture.

Screenplay by Colin Welland

Directed by Dennis Garnhum

Set and costumes by Bretta Gerecke

Lighting by Gerald King

Composer, Dave Pierce

Sound by Jim Neil

Choreographer, Stephanie Graham

Cast: Wade Bogert-O’Brien

Erin Breen

Josh Buchwald

Kevin Bundy

Ellen Denny

Alex Furber

Kyle Gatehouse

Harry Judge

Thom Marriott

Anwyn Musico

Connor Overton

Anand Rajaram

Charlie Tomlinson

A huge undertaking that captures the thrill and emotion of the 1924 Olympics especially the involvement of Eric Liddell and Harold Abrahams.

 The Story. Chariots of Fire is the captivating story of the rivalry between Scotsman Eric Liddell and Englishman Harold Abrahams vying for the title of fastest man alive when they competed in the 1924 Olympics. Both would represent Great Britain.

Abrahams was Jewish and his parents were immigrants. While he earned the right to get into Cambridge the veiled and not so veiled anti-Semitism of the administration of the University was obvious to him. Abrahams was driven to succeed in his studies and to run faster than anyone there. Abrahams was aware of Eric Liddell’s gifts as a runner and endeavoured to beat him. He had a grudging respect for his opponent.

Liddell was a pious man whose parents were missionaries. His devotion to God occasionally got in the way of him giving in to his abilities as a runner. He had to be urged to run rather than giving it up to become a missionary like his parents. His respect for Harold Abrahams was genuine. A crisis at the Olympics revealed Liddell’s integrity, the power of his faith and the duplicity of the various organizers on many sides.

The Production. Several seats were removed from the theatre to make room for a running track that ran through the space and continued onto the stage. The missing seats were relocated to the stage proper where some audience members watched the play, in Bretta Gerecke’s impressive set. A billowing formation of red ribbons hung down from the flies. Perhaps they were representative of the red ‘ribboned’ finish line in many races depicted in the play.

To get us in the racing atmosphere of the play, director, Dennis Garnhum has several actors in 1924 running garb—fitted white shorts and white t-shirts—stretching, bending and squatting in preparation to run. They sprinted. They challenged each other. They raced around the track until the show was about to start and they disappeared. They were all coached by Vickie Croley who coached at Western University.

The lives of both Harold Abrahams (Harry Judge)  and Eric Liddell Wade Bogert-O’Brien) are revealed almost side by side but still separately until they meet at a race. It’s Eric Liddell who has the grace to introduce himself to Harold Abrahams and wish him luck. Grace and graciousness describe Wade Boger-O’Brien’s performance as Liddell. He is thoughtful and carries the responsibility of doing God’s work and will in his everyday.

Harry Judge as Abrahams is sophisticated, brash, determined and touched by Liddell’s decision regarding the Olympics race. While a rivalry brought them together, it’s respect and consideration that makes them friends.

Sam Mussabini who coached and trained Abrahams is beautifully played by Anand Rajaram in a performance full of drive, clear-eyed savvy and compassion. Thom Marriott plays the Master of Trinity with disdain and condescension in a terrific performance.

Director Dennis Garnhum has provided many moving moments in this production: the introduction of the various countries with their flags at the opening of the Olympics, Liddell agonizing over what to do about his race; Abrahams giving credit to Liddell as a person and an athlete.  Garnhum has also recreated the races in an inventive way as well that shows the idiosyncratic way both men ran and won.

Naturally the iconic music played from the film, as well as the work of composer Dave Pierce. I even heard that stirring music during intermission in the ladies’ washroom.

Comment. Chariots of Fire a huge undertaking and it showed. (The title comes from a phrase from the hymn “Jerusalem.”) It was a terrific way of ending the Grand Theatre season, which in turn was full of grand theatre.

 Presented by the Grand Theatre.

Opened: April 20, 2018.

Closes: May 5, 2018.

Running Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes.

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1 Brian Stein May 6, 2018 at 1:55 pm

I am with you on this one, all the way to the finish line. Great to see recently cut Shaw actors, Wade and Thom, shine. Tim Carroll is foolish in setting a huge majority of Shaw’s fine company of actors asunder. Had to find the money to pay for BFF Stephen Fry some way. (See Kelly’s Saturday column.) Having said that, I’ve already made my first visit to Shaw to see Grand Hotel. Good to see Deborah Hay back after a brief turn at Stratford. Likewise, nice to see Michael Thériault returning for a second season. Eda Holmes was robbed.