Theatre

‘Fair Play’ review – Women’s athletics drama suffers false start fatigue

 ★★

Fair Play had a fair few delayed starts during its press night performance at the Bush Theatre. By that, I mean it took around 20 minutes for the lights to go down, and the fiery debate on women’s athletics at the heart of the 90-minute play is only introduced towards the end of the production.

A lot of the running time (pun not intended) is spent fleshing out the friendship between athletes Sophie (Charlotte Beaumont) and Ann (NicK King) – the latter of whom, it is later revealed, is intersex and has “too much testosterone” to compete. For a play with 59 – yes, 59 – scenes, it’s unfortunate that the topical subject matter is introduced so late. At this point, having endured bewildering scene changes with irritating beeps and repetitive physical exercises, our stamina and attention spans are on the line.

There is some credit to be given in Monique Touko’s direction. While the fast pacing of the majority of the play’s dialogue offers little room for processing, when this eventually slows, Ella Road’s script finally has a chance to breathe. Ann’s conversation with Sophie about oppressive athletic rules spans feminism, racism and sexism at breakneck speed, delivered with astonishing authority from King. “No one tells someone their legs are too long,” Ann says at one point, perfectly skewering the argument about “advantages” commonly spewed by sexists and transphobes alike.

Such powerful points should not be contained in the final scenes of Fair Play, but they are, and it’s a tragedy. I suppose, in hindsight, Sophie’s jealousy over Ann’s success is apparent earlier on – we see it in Beaumont’s delivery where genuine eye contact is few and far between. However, at first glance, it reads more as unnecessary filler and unconvincing conflict. Two girls in their late teens chat about boys and “having babies” (dialogue which feels a little immature for the older women), squeal with excitement every so often, and poke fun at each other. The banter would be humorous, if the short scenes didn’t make it hard to establish any depth to two characters.

Not only that, but for a show about women’s athletics and intersex people (the ‘I’ in LGBTQIA+), a joke about the ‘asexuality’ of their coach (the ‘A’ in that initialism) feels insensitive and inappropriate.

Until it becomes a conversation about the exclusion in women’s sports, the dialogue feels inconsequential; the pair’s constant sprinting across the red athletics track stage (designed with trademark minimalism from Naomi Dawson of Scenes with Girls and The Convert) is as exhausting to watch as it must be to enact.

To use sporting terminology to describe it – Fair Play‘s eventual discussion of discriminatory practices in sport feels like a strained sprint after over-exerting yourself in warm-up.

Fair Play is now playing at the Bush Theatre until 22 January 2022.

Audio described performances occur on 6 and 15 January, with captioned performances on 18 December and 13 January. Relaxed and sensory adapted performances take place on 16 December and 8 January.


Production Images: Ali Wright.

Disclaimer: I was invited to watch ‘Fair Play’ for free in exchange for a review of the performance as a member of the press. I did not receive payment for this article and all opinions stated are honest and my own.

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