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BWW Review: FAIR PLAY, Bush Theatre

Charlotte Beaumont and NicK King excel in this energetic two-hander

BWW Review: FAIR PLAY, Bush Theatre

BWW Review: FAIR PLAY, Bush Theatre Sex, gender identity, competition and friendship are all touched upon in Ella Road's energetic new play Fair Play. In this intense two-hander, when Ann joins Sophie's running club, the pair strike up a friendship amid the endurance of training, despite their very different backgrounds. As Ann overtakes Sophie, issues of their bodies, identities and gender become open to public opinion. Relationships fracture, attitudes are challenged and futures are altered forever.

The production is carried along by two excellent performances from Charlotte Beaumont as Sophie and NicK King as Ann. Beaumont, who was captivating in The Lovely Bones in 2019, brings quick-fire chat, focus and a highly competitive edge to Sophie, while King shows Ann's initially relaxed attitude gradually tightening as she rapidly improves and overtakes Sophie in their sport.

The developing relationship between the pair is natural and nuanced; they talk over each other, they tease each other, they discuss sex, families and body image. Sophie is incredulous that Ann still eats the odd burger, whereas Ann cannot bring herself to directly address Sophie's burgeoning eating disorder. There is also a very believable rivalry and distrust between the pair, but this never strays into a bitchy cliché.

Road, whose debut play The Phlebotomist was nominated for an Olivier award, creates an interesting narrative arch where we get to know the characters before any issues of race, gender and acceptance come into view. It is here the play feels unbalanced, as the exploration of the girls and their relationship feels overly long and the final twenty minutes rushes through these topics without finding quite enough depth or exploration.

Is excess testosterone the same as being tall in terms of athletic advantage? Who decides the criteria of being female? Intriguing questions that may not have answers, but go un-investigated here. The issues of Sophie's mother's cancer, Ann's atypical family background and the spark of sexual chemistry between the pair also feel somewhat glossed over.

Monique Touko's rapid direction takes advantage of the space in Naomi Dawson's stripped back set of two metal climbing frames sitting on a red race track, complete with white lane lines. There is rarely a moment of stillness in the production and the actors convey the intense physicality of both training and racing professionally. It is both tiring and captivating to watch.

Matt Haskin's lighting takes a certain amount of influence from Nick Payne's Constellations, where scene changes are punctuated by an audible beep and a flash of the lights. There is also a nice use of large stop-clocks projected onto the tracks.

Overall, the play is very thought-provoking, but leaves you with far more questions than answers. It is a beautifully performed piece, with intelligent direction and two intensely charismatic performances.

Fair Play is at the Bush Theatre until 22 January 2022

Photo Credit: Ali Wright

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