“Where does the power come from to see the race to its end?” pondered Eric Liddell moments before his 1924 Olympic victory in Paris. “From within.”
In March 2017, the true-to-the-faith stories of British runners Liddell and Harold Abrahams will be rekindled in a live stage production of Chariots of Fire as part of the BYU Arts theatre season.
The desire for a BYU production of the play ignited from its origination in London’s Roundhouse Theatre and subsequent West End production in 2012 during the London Olympic Games. BYU Arts Producer Jeffrey Martin attended a performance and immediately hoped to be able to produce the play in Provo.
“I knew it would resonate with our community here, with the good people who place values and faith in God above all else. So for four years I’ve been chasing down the rights to this play,” Martin said. “It was very complicated and took a lot of patience, so I am absolutely thrilled to see it finally coming together.”
Last year, through a series of acquaintances, Martin was ultimately connected to the office of film and theatre producer Barbara Broccoli, producer of the James Bond films, who owned the rights to license the play. After many months of communicating with the representatives of the show in London, permission was finally granted just last week for the BYU production to move forward next season.
“As far as I’m aware, we will be presenting the first post-London stage production of the play in the world,” said Martin. “This is a very exciting moment for all of our students who will participate in this project as well as for the community who will be able to enjoy this inspiring true story anew.”
To excite and inspire conviction in its viewers, Chariots of Fire offers a unique story of personal courage and friendship between a Christian and a Jew in Britain. Liddell, a Christian, refuses to run on Sundays in the Olympics and sparks worldwide controversy. Abrahams, a Jew, competes in order to make a stand against anti-Semitism.
“This is a story that will resonate with an LDS audience perhaps more than any other,” said Tim Threlfall, the play’s director and BYU theatre professor. “It’s fitting that our BYU production will be the first American production of the stage version of this well-loved story based on true events.”
With the story based on competitive running for the Olympics, students will do more than run lines at rehearsal.
“I have already spoken with my neighbor Mark Robison, BYU Track and Field associate head coach, about helping us out a bit,” Threlfall said. “He offered some expertise as well as memorabilia and stories from his own father, who ran in the Olympics.”
Threlfall previously directed the BYU production of Casey at the Bat and is familiar with the unique elements of combining athleticism and theater.
“It was great fun for our actors and gave the show the authenticity that was required,” Threlfall said. “We plan on doing the same for Chariots of Fire.”
The 1981 film Chariots of Fire won four Academy Awards in 1982, including best picture and best screenplay. In honor of the 2012 London Olympic Games, the Hampstead Theatre produced the stage adaptation of the film, which eventually transferred to the West End’s Gielgud Theatre, which Martin saw.
“I’m so pleased that after all this time, we will finally get to tell this story,” said Martin. “The fact that BYU will be the first place to produce Chariots of Fire following its debut in London is icing on the cake. It’s a real privilege for us.”