Attic Theatre Company's 1936 is a powerful, thought provoking, richly rewarding piece of theatre that examines the politics and power struggles behind the scenes of the 1936 Berlin Olympics that are perhaps best remembered for the name Jesse Owens and the sweeping documentary Olympia.
In this cyclical production, that begins and ends with the Berlin airlift, we are witness not only to the rise and fall of Germany as a superpower and the Third Reich's 'moment of Glory', but the behind the scenes showmanship, wrangling and arguing that could have led to a boycott by the Americans (a boycott that some say might have halted Hitler's ambitions).
This episodic production moves swiftly from scene to scene within Kevin Jenkins' cleverly designed open plan set that serves as an atmospheric background, which, with its controlled area lighting, allows for a seamless flow that builds up the intensity of the piece.
The scenes, a series of key events from 1931 through to 1948 are related as though seen through the eyes of an American journalist William Shirer (Jim Creighton), whose reports served to stir up controversy in the USA including requests by several Jewish Organisations to boycott the games.
Tom McNab, the playwright, has created a condensed cornucopia that presents us with a rich rewarding tapestry that engages and entertains whilst raising questions about politics, sport and morality. It is a labour of love from a man who was himself an athlete, Olympic coach and adviser on the great British film Chariots of Fire, whose opening sequence he admits owes a debt to that of Leni Riefenstahl's Olympia film, a film that inspired him as a young athlete.
Jenny Lee directs a remarkable cast of nine whose chameleon abilities allow them to play over 20 different characters from all walks of life: Tim Frances shows us a Hitler who does not brook failure, yet can be manipulated with promises, and a powerful American general, who had the wool pulled over his eyes. Chris Myles' Goebbels reveals the insecurity of the private man whose ability to placate his leader leaves him open to reprisals should he fail, as when he agrees to Hitler's medal wish of 30 - Gold! which would seem an impossibility after Germany having only won three in 1932.
With an in-house post show discussion and extracts from Olympia as a dessert, it's well worth the trip to Dalston for this Olympic feast.
- Dave Jordan