Home » London Theatre Reviews » Fair Play by Ella Road at the Bush Theatre

Fair Play by Ella Road at the Bush Theatre

I went into Ella Road’s new two-hander Fair Play totally uninformed about its content and thus enjoyed a twist that, despite some artful foreshadowing, I didn’t see coming. I’m, on one hand, a little loathe to write too much about the play’s climax because my personal obliviousness to where the drama goes gave me a pleasant and gripping experience; but I don’t think she intends her audience to arrive entirely without preparation or context as I did. The heart of the play is powerful and it’s hard to recommend this production without talking about where it takes us.

l-r NicK King and Charlotte Beaumont in 'Fair Play' at Bush Theatre. Photo credit Ali Wright.
l-r NicK King and Charlotte Beaumont in ‘Fair Play’ at Bush Theatre. Photo credit Ali Wright.

The script’s epigram from Caster Semenya: ‘Never slow down for the world. One day it will catch up with you,’ gives us a clue, but we initially find ourselves in what feels much like, and is, a coming-of-age drama set in the world of elite sport.

We meet middle-distance runners Ann and Sophie on the track, the focus of Naomi Dawson’s impressionistic but minimalist set and Monique Touko’s in-the-round staging. Sophie (Charlotte Beaumont) is the star: on a first-name basis with the man the others deferentially call ‘Coach’ at the training camp. She is the heir apparent – with a sponsorship deal and doling out advice and insider intel to new arrival Ann (NicK King) who has arrived from the United States with her father in Nigeria and her mother having returned to Britain to visit family. Ann is eager, diligent and religious. Her lesser degree of cynicism or sophistication makes her a likeable foil to Sophie’s hungry but somewhat cocky and occasionally entitled character.

Giles Thomas’ sound design and composition, along with Matt Haskins’ lighting design, move us through short-scene vignettes of the young athletes’ developing friendship as well as the ‘reps’ of training and the heats of racing. Joseph Toonga’s movement direction makes for dance-like stationary sprints whilst transporting us, in slow motion, to the arching and heaving to and through the finish line. The two actors are outstandingly talented with NicK King especially shining towards the later part of the play when we see Ann having grown from apprentice runner to emerging champion robbed of opportunity and turned into the living canvass onto which bias, ignorance and misogynoir are projected. Yet despite the skill of the cast and the punch of the script about three-quarters through, the first 45 minutes of the play feel overly long and, ironically, talky despite all the athleticism of the performances. I couldn’t help but wonder if Road could have got us to the play’s heart sooner, perhaps considering a non-linear and episodic structure for its exposition? Road’s script has wit and intelligence throughout, but the naturalism of the expository dialogue felt a little flat and soapy at the beginning.

The script is divided into 58 short scenes. From scene 49 to the conclusion, Road’s writing, layered and urgent, is outstanding. With this material, in these final laps, we see both King, already strong, soar to supernova brilliance – exhibiting both passion and pathos of the deepest and highest notes delivered with masterful range. Beaumont also skilfully brings greater depth, vulnerability and intrigue to her character. Together in these last scenes, the cast is exquisite and the story riveting, heartbreaking and infuriating.

I do wonder if Road might see her script as an early draft of something with moments of brilliance now, but even greater potential in the future? Regardless, this is a play worth seeing about a topic that needs light and King and Beaumont are faces to watch.

3 Star Review

Review by Mary Beer

When Ann joins Sophie’s running club she’s thrown into a world of regimented training and pure focus. The two girls couldn’t be more different, but soon their shared passion makes them inseparable – dreaming in lanes and lap-times, waking up picturing Olympic medals, each day stronger and faster…

But set head-to-head in the run-up to the World Championships, they find themselves and their friendship put to the ultimate test. As their relationships, their bodies, and their very identities are pulled into public scrutiny, does being exceptional come at too high a price?

A Bush Theatre Production in association with Sonia Friedman Productions

Fair Play
Written by Ella Road
Directed by Monique Touko
Set and Costume Designer – Naomi Dawson
Lighting Designer – Matt Haskins
Sound Designer and Composer – Giles Thomas
Movement Director – Joseph Toonga
Assistant Movement Director – Orin Norbert
Costume Supervisor – Megan Rarity
Casting Director – Heather Basten CDG
Casting Assistant – Fran Cattaneo
Cast – Charlotte Beaumont and NicK King

3 December 2021– 22 January 2022
https://www.bushtheatre.co.uk/

Author

  • Mary Beer

    Mary graduated with a cum laude degree in Theatre from Columbia University’s Barnard College in New York City. In addition to directing and stage managing several productions off-Broadway, Mary was awarded the Helen Prince Memorial Prize in Dramatic Composition for her play Subway Fare whilst in New York. Relocating to London, Mary has worked in the creative sector, mostly in television broadcast and production, since 1998. Her creative and strategic abilities in TV promotion, marketing and design have been recognised with over 20 industry awards including several Global Promax Golds. She is a founder member of multiple creative industry and arts organisations and has frequently served as an advisor to the Edinburgh International TV Festival.

    View all posts
Scroll to Top