Chariots of Fire

On track

Gielgud Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue, London
Running until February 2

As a year of patriotic celebrations draws to a close, a stage version of the 1981 film, Chariots of Fire continues to run in London’s West End for those of us still reliving the achievements of Team GB.

The planning of this production to coincide with the London 2012 Olympics becomes clear even before the play starts, as actors, dressed in modern sportswear, warm up and stretch on stage. To the strains of Vangelis’s iconic score, members of the cast jog around set designer Miriam Buether’s ingenious running track that snakes its way into the stalls, before the scene dissolves into Cambridge in the 1920s.

This adaptation is an accurate re-run of the film, as Eric Liddell and Harold Abrahams prepare to compete in the 1924 Paris Olympics. On one level these men are similar: both are dedicated athletes and both cause their loved ones concern as they strive for success on the track. However, their motives are very different. For Abrahams, winning is everything, partly fuelled by the prejudice he experiences at Cambridge. Liddell believes he has been gifted by God and runs for his glory.

Thankfully, this is shown powerfully on stage. Abrahams is seen controversially employing a professional coach, desperately striving to improve his technique, but ultimately, in a poignant scene, sitting alone with his medal in the changing room. Meanwhile, Liddell is calmly yet assertively resisting the pressures of the authorities to run on a Sunday and has his sights set on living for God, firstly as a runner, but ultimately as a missionary in China.

Transforming gospel power

Chariots of Fire is a creative, physical production which unashamedly uses a very British soundtrack — Gilbert and Sullivan, ‘Jerusalem’ and ‘Rule Brittania’ — to capture the mood of the nation over the last year. But, more significantly, the transforming power of the gospel has also been shown on this stage for the last seven months and the assurance and peace that a relationship with Jesus can bring.

Richard Honeysett