"Let the Mind Games Begin"
by Maureen Mckarkiel for remotegoat on 04/08/12

As Britain basks in the glow of Olympic fever Elfriede Jelinek's unflinching look at the role of sport in society is both timely and uncomfortable.

In Sports Play the Austrian writer challenges the values attached to that most taxing of physical endeavours, arguing that sport's ideals of equality, purity and excellence are in fact misplaced. Parellels to war, she asserts, are more fitting. Her piece uses the framework of a non-traditional structure to look at the way in which sport encourages a pernicious nationalism, objectifies women and turns mothers into lonely, grieving people in perpetual mourning for the loss of their child to the field:

'..the sun only shines because of you, you're not at home so it can go away again'

With a nod to ancient civilisation, the play employs its six cast members as chorus as well as lead characters; the addition of a messenger in full classical Greek garb underlines further Jelinek's interest in examining the original ideals of both sport and theatre. In respect to the former, at least, the play argues that the founding principles forged in Olympus thousands of years ago have long gone. In an interview printed as part of the foreward to the play, Jelinek states that her critique of sport is based on the superior position it holds to intellectualism in society, something that worries her immensely.

Sports Play's bleak vision is captured brilliantly by this excellent production - a giant meringue-like structure resembling a ski slope dominates the stage, used as both prop and metaphor. At times the play tried to deal with too many issues at once, which resulted in a lack of clarity. Also at just over two hours, it could have been shorter. That aside, Sports Play is a thought provoking antidote to the current jamboree.

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