Seeing Darren Stapleton (Nebiu Samuel) running to and fro along the length of the performance space even as the audience continued to file in called to mind a 2008 installation at Tate Modern, in which runners would run through a gallery at regular intervals at top speed. Something about life being a blur, over all too quickly, ‘blink and you miss it’, and so on. And although this production of Olympilads comes five years after the Cultural Olympiad, it proved accidentally topical. Darren has a desire to ‘beat’ Usain Bolt – by this, he does not mean he wants to physically attack the athlete, but rather to run a faster time than him at a competitive 100 metres race in a London stadium. Less than a week before this play’s opening night, Justin Gatlin and Christian Coleman did exactly that.
That isn’t, in the end, the salient point to be taken away from the play, which proves to be a complicated but credible and compelling family story. Darren is somewhat aggressive in tone but this is commensurate with the sort of determination needed to be an athletic champion. Since he was very young he has been in training, and he clings to a childhood ambition in his young adulthood. Let’s just say it’s very telling that the training has focused purely on running, running and more running – there’s a reason why there’s nothing about dealing with the media or how to handle fame and fortune.
For a few seconds the play lost me in some details of human anatomy and physiology, and later on, I couldn’t for the life of me decipher what Darren was writing on the floor in the corner. These are, however, peripheral quibbles. The lighting (Mark Calloway) was never uncomfortably bright, but still, rightly or wrongly, it allowed members of the audience to see one another more clearly than one would ordinarily expect, though this may, with the benefit of hindsight, be more to do with the ‘in-the- round’ (or, at the risk of sounding pedantic, ‘in-the- rectangle’) seating. The soundtrack (Mercy Grace) is not the sort of music I would ordinarily choose to listen to but suits the production like tailor-made gloves on the hands of its intended wearer.
Abigail (Michelle Barwood) took a dismissive attitude towards the ‘opportunity’ to be a ‘Games Maker’. Fair enough, I thought – why bother if her heart’s not in it, and it was, in essence, a voluntary stewarding position. In other words, it doesn’t pay the bills. I would have liked a public speech she gave to be a bit longer than it was as performed in the play – this is, unless I have made a gross error of judgement, a ‘highlights’ version. Then again, as I never tire of saying, better to leave the audience wanting more than to outstay an audience’s welcome.
Simeon (Rhys Yates) expresses a wish to move out of London, for a reason relatable to many. I trust it is not much of a spoiler to reveal that he’s looked at his income, he’s looked at property prices in various places, and worked out he’s better off living elsewhere. He’s not the first to reach this conclusion, and is unlikely to be the last. But this notion of getting away is not just about affordability, and seems to be, in the context of the narrative, symbolic of wanting to distance himself from the family situation.
Differences of opinion as to how to handle what has become the mentally unstable Darren fester. As far as I could work out, Darren has not been diagnosed with any condition or syndrome, but his conduct suggests there’s something deeper than mere delusions of grandeur. The play correctly provides no definitive answers as to how the characters should proceed. There’s much to think about in this brisk and provocative production.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Darren’s convinced he’s going to beat Usain Bolt in the Men’s 100m Finals.
Abigail won’t stop applying varnish to her fingernails.
Simon just wants to make sure his brother and sister are both eating right.
Rhys Yates (Simeon)
Michelle Barwood (Abigail)
Nebiu Samuel (Darren)
Writer – Andrew Maddock
Director – Niall Phillips.
Produced by Lonesome Schoolboy Productions.
Production Assistant –
Lighting – Tom Turner
Sound – Mercy Phillips
PR – Ros Fraser
Producer: Lonesome Schoolboy Productions
Read our interview with Niall Phillips
Theatre N16 77 Bedford Hill, London SW12 9HD