Fair Play at the Bush Theatre is set in the world of female athletics. Ann (NicK King) joins a running club and meets Sophie (Charlotte Beaumont), and the two bond over their love of running, drive and ambition to compete at the highest level.
It is simply staged with the lines of a running track marked out and a couple of scaffolding frames. The dialogue weaves around their training regime, the warm-ups, practice races and competitions.
There is banter, encouragement, anger at bad performances and revelations about the sacrifices the two make and the impact training at such a high level has on their bodies.
With snatches of races imaginatively performed, the stop-start pace creates bursts of energy like that which goes into the runs. It envelops you into the landscape of serious athletics.
And so the first half jogs, and it is fun and interesting, but after a while, it starts to feel like it is circling as Ann and Sophie circle the running track. I did wonder if it was leading anywhere.
In the second half, the circle is broken. Just as the two are competing on the world stage, Ann's ambitions for reaching the Olympics are shattered - and the friendship tested.
With echoes of South African athlete Caster Semenya's story, Ann is, in essence, deemed to be too fast for a woman, and the only way she will be allowed to compete is with medical intervention.
The play has interesting things to say about women's bodies, who makes the decisions that govern them and why.
And having built up the friendship between Ann and Sophie, it is unpicked when its foundations are rocked. Some frank conversations brilliantly illuminate the complexity and uniqueness of friendships and what can last.
Fair Play is a play of two halves, the first started to feel like it was dragging its heels, but the second half more than made up for it. I'm giving it ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️.
Fair Play, Bush Theatre
Written by Ella Road
Directed by Monique Touko
Running time: 90 minutes without an interval
Booking until 22 January 2022, more information and tickets from the Bush website
Covid safety measures*: There was an announcement about mask-wearing before the performance started, with about 80% compliance. This performance was before the compulsory measures come into force. There is no social distancing in the public areas before the performance, but there are different entry points and timed entry depending on where you are sitting.
* The question I most frequently get asked is about Covid safety at the theatre, so I'm going to include info about what measures were in place and compliance with all my reviews from now on.