Theatre Review: Chariots of Fire

Date Posted: 06/07/2012

Rebekah Tailor followed up a pre-theatre meal at Planet Hollywood with the West End’s latest opening, Chariots of Fire.

The show summed up in one sentence... An imaginative stage adaptation of the 1981 Oscar winning film, superbly staged and fantastically well choreographed.

Who should see it? This historic portrayal of two of Britain’s finest athletes is ideal for anybody caught up in Olympic fever - or for any doubters to enter into the Olympic spirit.

When I first caught wind that Chariots of Fire was to be adapted for the stage, an obvious question immediately sprang to mind; how on earth do you stage a 100m track race in a West End theatre? And while we’re jumping this hurdle, how about a 400m track event?

Call me unimaginative but it seems to me the logistics simply wouldn’t work; and of course the health and safety implications of having at least eight actors at any one time running full pelt across the stage are unthinkable. Aren’t they?

Not so for this fantastically staged and extraordinarily well choreographed production. Full credit should go to designer Miriam Buether, who succeeds in her objective to transform London’s Gielgud Theatre into an immersive stadia experience; and of course to choreographer Scott Ambler, who brings her design to life.

I’ve never seen the 1981 Oscar Award-winning film, although I’m extremely familiar with the plight of Olympic heroes Harold Abrahams and Eric Liddell on which it’s based, and of course its legendry Vangelis score.

And actually, when it comes to watching Mike Bartlett’s stage adaptation, this is no bad thing. Time and again new productions have been panned by critics who insist on a comparison to its motion picture counterpart; think Backbeat and The King’s Speech as recent examples.

Approach Chariots of Fire with a fresh perspective and an open mind, and I can pretty much guarantee you’ll not only be blown away by the staging, but that you’ll leave on a high feeling the same stirrings of patriotism that coincide with any major event of national importance.

Like The King’s Speech; its opening timed with the Diamond Jubilee, Chariots of Fire celebrates Britain’s Olympic history at the dawn of London 2012. The enduring tale of triumphing in the face of overwhelming odds, much of the action is centred on the 1924 Paris Olympic Games.

Harold Abrahams is the son of an immigrant Lithuanian Jew who runs to overcome prejudice. Eric Liddell is a devout Scottish Christian who runs for the glory of God. In what starts as the cream of Cambridge versus the Flying Scotsman; both athletes are united in their Olympic bid and by a sheer love for their sport.

James McArdle and Jack Lowden give sterling performances as Abrahams and Liddell respectively; the latter suitably modest in his portrayal of the spiritual Scot, the former brimming with the fire and drive of a man with something to prove.

Tan Williams stands out in a solid supporting cast for his portrayal of Andrew, Lord Lindsay. Bringing delightful moments of humour to the proceedings, his champagne-aided hurdling efforts were something of a highlight.

Chariots of Fire captures a momentous occasion in our sporting history, timed perfectly to encapsulate the current mood of the nation. To compare it to its screen equivalent is unjust and inane. This is after all a stage production, so while it may be bound by certain limitations, it far exceeds expectation in its creative execution.

And when the race is run, the final result is much the same: an ultimately moving portrayal of an incredibly inspiring story, which leaves the audience on a high amid the rousing strains of Jerusalem.

Chariots of Fire is currently booking at the Gielgud Theatre until 10th November. Groups of ten or more are entitled to discounted rates valid for Monday to Friday performances.

Tastes of Theatreland: Planet Hollywood
Located just around the corner from the Gielgud Theatre and ideally situated in the heart of Theatreland, I enjoyed a pre-theatre meal at Planet Hollywood on Haymarket.

Reportedly housing the UK’s largest collection of film memorabilia, themed areas - including the Bond, Cabana and British film rooms - mean that groups of all sizes can be easily accommodated.

A lively atmosphere combined with an exceptionally friendly service, Planet Hollywood should prove a winner with children and family groups, and is also a popular venue for school group bookings. Mounted screens previewing movie clips and music videos add to the buzz of activity and will keep youngsters entertained.

As well as enjoying the aptly named Legally Blonde and Bourne Ultimatum cocktails (delicious), I indulged in the World Famous Chicken Crunch to start followed by the shrimp fajitas. Both beautifully cooked - although, be warned, the portions are huge - a prompt service meant we could take our time over the food. My companion enjoyed the crispy calamari, followed by the Surf & Turf which comprised a sizeable steak cooked to perfection, accompanied by succulent shrimps and a portion of fries.

Having expected food typical of an American diner, I was impressed by the range and variety of dishes on Planet Hollywood’s menu. You can choose from pizzas and salads, Asian wok fired stir-fries, grill specialties and seafood.

Planet Hollywood also boasts a variety of set menus, with great deals for groups and something to suit every taste and budget- definitely one to try on your next group trip to London.

Photo credits: Manuel Harlan

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