Edinburgh Fringe 2011
The Games is a ‘lost’ work by the Greek comic playwright Aristophanes of 5th century Athens. In fact it is a hugely entertaining modern farce skillfully performed by a trio of bright young things. On Mount Olympus Zeus and Hera, in company with Herakles each enter an athlete into the upcoming Olympic games bestowing on each of their hopefuls a special ability that will aide them most in their hour of need. For the boxer, invulnerability to pain; for the chariot racer, the ability to speak with his horses; and since girls aren’t allowed to play in the games which are conducted in the nude, the Laconic Hermaphrodite gets a fully-functioning, envy-inspiring willy. Part road movie, with a dash of romcom, some penis puppets, a broadway of musical and a hearty deal of bro-mance, The Games is an intelligent and witty parody/tribute.
It is said that the best spontaneity is first blocked and rehearsed ad infinitum.
The best casts can then revive the production at each performance and this is just such a cast. The three performers, Liam Tobin (Darius, the Dr. Doolittle chariot racer), Lauren Silver (Hermaphrodite) and Jamie Wood (Stanzas, the pugilist poet) are capable performers, comfortable with one another – although at time Silver seemed a little overwhelmed by the energy of Tobin and Wood.
Aspects of the staging were a let down. Too much of the action happened too far downstage where even from the middle rows of the venue it was almost impossible to see. It tells you much about the audience reaction that so many were so politely animated, keen to see the fun. A clever use was made of lighting and screens to add depth and black figure vase-style action. The clever use of puppetry expanded the production and showcased some real talent as did the movement and singing.
There were a few missed sound queues – perhaps more comic effect could have been wrought from those. Overall the music and lighting blended in well. Just enough of everything, not too much of anything.
The writing is definitely the star of the show (but of a well-supported Jerry Seinfeld type). The writing is good but there is a lot of material which could be more tightly packed and more material could be packed in. The scenes on Olympus relied too heavily on the comic puppetry used by Wood for Herakles than banter or god-mocking profanity. The writing follows the contours of Attic comedy but leaves out foreign and domestic politics as well as social commentary – Aristophanes’ staple-diet. There is also the absence of a chorus. Tobin’s gentle and engaging role as the academic finder of this ‘undiscovered’ comedy could have been made more or. Finally the Parabasis is more South Park ‘I learnt something today…’ than Aristophanes’ usual aggressive (an unheeded) clarion calls for his audience to be better and more thoughtful citizens.
There are a deal of heavy-going Greek tragedies being performed at the Fringe this year and The Games is a healthy contribution of light hearted indulgence both for novices as well as Douglas M. MacDowell. If you enjoyed Tom Holt’s Walled Orchard series you will love The Games. Equally, if you enjoyed Anchorman and Dodgeball you will love The Games. If you are a very serious minded person who tolerates Aristophanes only because he is old and relatively obscure and not because he is funny, then you will probably not get The Games.
This is a smart and very funny, expertly produced and performed parody/tribute. There is some room for improvement but what there is unmissable.