BWW Review: OLYMPILADS, Theatre N16
Andrew Maddock explores a difficult family relationship marred by old issues and mental health, set against the backdrop of the London 2012 Olympics, in his new play.
While Darren (Nebiu Samuel) believes he's going to beat Usain Bolt in the men's 100m finals, Simon (Rhys Yates) is dealt a heavy hand trying to maintain the ties with his estranged sister Abigail (Michelle Barwood) and struggling to support brother Darren.
Smart writing and excellent acting come together in Lonesome Schoolboy Production's newest creation, with Niall Phillips at the helm. His strong direction naturalises a set that might otherwise seem forced. Designed by the company, a long track is laid sideways and is almost constantly used by Samuel's Darren. The pacing back and forth of all the characters gives the show a nervous, jittery vibe, reproducing visually Darren's fidgety state.
A young man with mental health issues, Darren's life revolves around running. His obsession leads him to shut everyone out and create fantasies of being the fastest runner on the planet. Being brought up almost in a bubble by his father and used to get what he wants at the risk of throwing a massive fit, reality doesn't touch him at all.
Simon, his only carer, tries to explain to him that life isn't confined to what goes on his brain and subtly tries to make him more independent, starting with going to the track by himself, which initially Darren refuses to do.
Yates is superb as Simon, torn between his love for his sister and his feel of obligation to Darren. He carries his character's background like an albatross, and his final moments on stage are heartbreaking, giving the final blow to an already complicated, painful story. Yates is the bridge between Barwood and Samuel, and the glue keeping together a production that would alternatively seem cold and barren.
As Abigail, Barwood is tough and strong-willed, the first of the siblings to actively leave behind a life of hardships to start anew in the countryside. She keeps reminding her brother of everything their father did to them, even thrusting blame upon Simon - who, as far as she tells, is already showing signs of his legacy.
"Why should we expect to love everyone all the time? Love is something you work on like a muscle," she explains in a speech written for her local church meeting. This might imply that she could learn to love and forgive her sibling for their father's death - she just doesn't want to.
Active since before the start of the play, Samuel is a firecracker. When he's not running up and down the track, he's jotting down timings and drawing the Olympic rings on his bicep (which is what Olympic competitors sometime do when they win). "I ran as fast as I could. I ran and I ran and I ran until I couldn't run anymore," Samuel asserts multiple times during the play, his focus never wavering.
A piece with muscle and stamina to match its sporting theme, Olympilads contains a well of feeling without forgetting the hardships of reality.
Photo credit: Kathy Trevelyan