Gilded Balloon and Redbeard Theatre
Gilded Balloon Teviot
The year 1936 held a particular problem for Germany’s Nazi government. It was the year when post-war Germany was finally being allowed to host the Olympics. But across the world, there was a growing movement for a boycott in protest against Germany’s race policies which broke the principles of the games.
Henry Naylor comes at this subject through the imagined monologues of two real Jewish athletes, the blonde fencer Helene Mayer (Avital Lvova), who won a gold medal at the 1928 Olympics, and the slightly younger Gretel Bergmann (Tessie Orange-Turner), who competed as a high jumper.
The play continuously switches between the women, who are only shown briefly meeting on two occasions.
Helene wants to keep sport and politics separate, Gretel is increasingly less sure that is possible. Certainly both suffer the regime's prejudice.
In January 1933, Hitler became Chancellor. Two months later, Helene, Gretel and other “non-Aryan” athletes are banned from using all German athletic organizations.
By 1936, Gretel is in the UK and Helene is in America. With the demands for a boycott growing, the Nazis persuaded the two to return to Germany. They are to be the token Jewish members of the German team. Of course, it also carried the risk that it could blow a hole through the claim of Aryan superiority.
It is a strong, engaging performance that never loses sight of the personal lives of these two women caught in a deadly historical game.
The vote in favour of a boycott was lost 48 to 52 and, although it would not have stopped the terror that was soon to engulf the world, it was an act of solidarity with Jewish people that should not have been missed.