views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

National Theatre
6th August 2012


This year's Olympics haven't just been a boon for London, it's also provided unprecedented inspiration for theatre groups, comedy troupes and musicians. It seems as long as you have a snappy pun or two and a sly dig at LOCOG you can cobble anything together to make a show. There have been a number of stand-outs worth noting, where the use of the international sports day has been cleverly subverted or has been well-considered. Bowlympics is one of these.

Founder Ezme Gaze, together with Bertie Anderson, Mitch McGugan and Ed Bruggemeyer, comprise vaudeville string quartet Bowjangles. But for this performance, they ditched the suits in favour of sporting whites and limbered up for 50 minutes of high-energy comedy and superb musicianship. A framing device of a television broadcast allowed the group to touch on a number of aspects of the games, matching the tunes to the sports brilliantly.

The opening ceremony encompassed the best of British and proved that this wasn't going to be a stuffy classical gig. Sure, there was a bit of Gustav Holst, but there was also Andrew Lloyd-Webber, The Beatles and the Spice Girls. TV got its fair share of checks, with the EastEnders theme and The Liberty Bell (complete with Monty Python funny walks) thrown in for good measure.

After some audience interaction - and boy, there were hundreds of crowd members lining up the Southbank to choose from - it was on to the events themselves. Again, the tunes ranged from the classical to the contemporary to the comedic. As the fencing began, in between some sharply choreographed moves, we were treated to a snippet of Rossini's William Tell Overture, The 5 6 7 8's Woo Hoo and, in a rather inspired choice, Hans Zimmer's Pirates of the Caribbean main theme.

The physical comedy and spot-on song choices continued through all of the events, including a plucked game of tennis, a Benny Hill and Chariots of Fire running section and boxing to - what else? - Eye of the Tiger.

But it wasn't all just strings. Rowing gave Bowjangles the chance to exercise their vocal cords with a medley including Row, Row, Row Your Boat, Luck be a Lady, Sit Down, You're Rockin' the Boat and The Winner Takes it All. They each proved themselves excellent singers, with Anderson's luscious, jazzy tones particularly strong.

Almost inevitably there were a few duff notes and out-of-tune moments. But given the sheer amount of movement it's perhaps inevitable. Also, the jokes were frequently Butlins-level groaners, but it didn't matter too much as the real wit lay with the song choices and physicality.

Totally uncynical, the all-ages show was truly appreciated by everyone. The quartet's energy was staggering, as they bounded about the stage, playing, fighting and singing and Gaze was especially impressive lumbered as she was with a cello. They may not have been athletes, but their stamina is unparalleled and their show Olympian.

Bowlympics first ran at the National Theatre on 6th August 2012. It then ran at Upstairs at the Gatehouse from 7th to 10th August 2012, as part of the Camden Fringe.

Nearest tube station: Waterloo (Northern, Bakerloo, Jubilee)

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