West End salutes Olympics in Taking Part and After the Party

Aug 2, 2012

Criterion Theatre and Stephen Fry get into Olympic spirit with two-week season of drama and comedy

What you need to know
The Criterion Theatre in London's West End has commissioned two new hour-long plays, Taking Part and After the Party, to mark the Olympic Games. The plays are part of Playing the Games, a two-week season which also includes talks, comedy, story-telling and interviews with a sporting theme, co-curated by Sam Hodges and Stephen Fry, with appearances from Fry, Clive Owen, Brian Blessed and Eddie Izzard.

Taking Part, by Adam Brace, is a two-hander about a plucky but mediocre Congolese swimmer, Lucky Henry (Obi Abili), who turns his Olympic failure to his advantage. It is inspired by Eric 'the Eel' – Equatorial Guinea's unsuccessful but celebrated swimmer at the 2000 Games. Paul Moriarty plays his Russian coach, Grigory.

Serge Cartwright's After the Party tells the story of Sean and Ray, two out-of-work, has-been DJs from Stratford (played by Richard Riddell and David Fynn), who see the Olympics as an opportunity to finally make something of their lives. Both plays run until 12 August.

What the critics like
New drama is at a competitive disadvantage in the West End, so it's sporting of the Criterion to be staging two new plays for their Olympic season, says Dominic Maxwell in The Times. The ambition is laudable and the prices are cinema admission. Taking Part intrigues by exploring the idea of how an Olympic loser can achieve fame and use it for his own ends. "It's smart enough to make for an increasingly persuasive hour." After the Party, "flies off the blocks", in a lively production with enjoyable blokey dialogue.
After the Party is delivered with plausible streetwise swagger, says Dominic Cavendish in The Daily Telegraph. It's "consistently funny, emotionally on the button" and deserves life after the Olympics "even though it provides a neat snapshot of this mad, adrenalin-filled month". While more sketch-like, Taking Part "possesses a quirky charm and a seductive air of breezy topicality".

Taking Part is a nicely sardonic piece, says Michael Billington in The Guardian. It pins down the intensity of the swimmer-coach relationship, with the two roles "excellently performed" by Obi Abili and Paul Moriarty. Cartright's After the Party has a "rough energy" and David Fynn is "horribly good" as the loud-mouth Ray.

What they don't like
Neither play quite makes it to the podium, says Dominic Maxwell in The Times. They are promising, rather than the finished article, "but both are better than plucky losers".

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