Home » Reviews » Chariots of Fire, Hampstead Theatre & Gielgud Theatre

Chariots of Fire, Hampstead Theatre & Gielgud Theatre

Original screenplay by Colin Welland, adapted by Mike Bartlett
Directed by Edward Hall

Pros: A solid cast and some moments that work amazingly well. Plus the awesome theme tune.

Cons: Wore me out a little just watching that much running!

Our Verdict: About the most patriotic piece of theatre you could hope to come out of Britain.

Courtesy of Tristram Kenton for The Guardian

I feel we should deal first with the criticisms that have been made of this production and get them out of the way. Yes, parts of it could be called ‘cheesy’, but really only by the renowned reserved components of the British audience. Yes, the film probably is better, but comparing film and theatre isn’t really valid criticism is it? Finally, no, you don’t get all the excitement of the races as you do in the film. Okay so this last point may be slightly valid. There is no doubt a heightened sense of tension during the races in the film as it’s not always clear that our heroes will win, as it is in the stage production. I did start to wonder a little whether they should have bothered staging the races at all as obviously there are limitations. But then I remembered that I was in a theatre and suspended my disbelief, upped the imagination, added a touch of artistic licence and hey presto, problem solved.

Director Edward Hall has done a fantastic job staging this play, which takes place in the round with a runway between rows for the races to go through. There’s a considerable amount of production, but the scene changes are slick and helped along by the musical element running throughout the play. Mike Bartlett’s adaptation for the stage has stayed faithful to the original on the whole. To be honest, my main concern was that they would choose not to use the iconic music but much to my delight, and I’m sure everyone else’s, there’s plenty of that goosebump-inducing Vangelis theme played at the start and end. A blend of hymns and choruses during scene changes added a certain school boy charm where appropriate too.

There’s a solid cast at play here, with James McArdle as the determined sprinter Harold Abrahams and Jack Lowden as Eric Liddell, the Christian sprinter running for the pleasure of God. You can’t fault their performances and I give them extra points for all that running!

There are also some really clever bits, the kind that make you smile and sit up a little in your chair. When Sam Mussabini, the trainer – sorry, ‘coach’ – played ‘to a T’ by Nicholas Woodeson, shows Abrahams a film reel of his starting technique, design and ensemble movement come together perfectly and to great effect. Hall has used the ensemble well throughout the performance and they even manage to make ‘running’ look surprisingly cool. Other highlights for me included the brass band opening the second half (let’s hope there’ll be brass bands at the 2012 Olympics!) and the scene where Lord Lindsey (Tam Williams) uses glasses of champagne as incentive to clear hurdles, just as he does in the film.

I’m not sure it quite wins the gold in terms of ground-breaking theatre, but that’s not to say it doesn’t achieve what it sets out to, and that’s the point. I wasn’t expecting it to break the mould, I was expecting it to be a good, entertaining piece of drama, and on that, it has delivered. As it begins its West End transfer at the Gielgud Theatre and as this year’s Olympics edges ever closer, I have no doubt it will have a successful run there too.

Please feel free to leave your thoughts and comments in the section below!

Chariots of Fire has now finished its run at the Hampstead Theatre, but it transfers to the West End’s Gielgud Theatre from 23rd June and runs until 2nd February 2013.
Box Office: 0844 482 5138 or book online at http://www.delfontmackintosh.co.uk/Tickets/ChariotsOfFire/ChariotsOfFire.asp

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