Image: Lonesome Schoolboy
Simeon - Rhy Yates
Abigail - Michelle Barwood
Darren - Nebiu Samuel
"I ran as fast as I could.
I ran and I ran and I ran until I couldn't run anymore ..."
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.
Simeon just wants to make sure his brother and sister are both eating right.
Olympilads by Andrew Maddock explores a complex relationship between two brothers and their estranged sister, living their lives under the shadow of austerity and the hope for a lasting London legacy during the 2012 Olympic Games.
Director Niall Phillips and Writer Andrew Maddock (one of The Independents playwrights to dominate 2017) form the production company Lonesome Schoolboy.
Previous plays IN/OUT (A Feeling) & HE(ART) are Off West End Nominated and described as 'Enthralling and Urgent' (The Stage), 'a joy to hear, never mind see' (Exeunt) and 'raw and poignant' (The Upcoming).
It's not often that a play, or even part of it manages to bring me even vaguely close to tears.
Having an in-built resistance to sentimentality and emotionally leathery defences, I can usually fend-off with ease the appearance of tear-inducing schmaltz and its close dramatic allies.
However, the ending of this short play by Andrew Maddock is one of the most moving that I've seen recently and even, perhaps, in years.
In some ways the play's final moments are not inevitable given what precedes them, and we only get a hint at what is to happen in the denouement rather late on in the play.
The story revolves around three siblings - sister Abigail, older brother Simeon and younger brother Darren.
Simeon and Darren live together at what seems to be the original family home, but Abigail is living in her own place with her kids.
The focus of the story is Darren.
He lives to run, and believes he is about to line-up with the top names of the track in the London Olympics, which are being staged at the time in which the play is set.
But it falls to brother Simeon to look after Darren who is prone to raging outbursts when anything interferes with his training schedule.
The theme of the Olympics and running gets translated into a diagonal track stretched from corner to corner across the auditorium and raised in the centre to resemble a podium.
And seating for the production consists of chairs round the edge of the room and cushions on the floor.
The idea is to lend an open-air feel to the proceedings, resembling the kind of atmosphere one finds in a sports stadium.
That concept is further embedded in the use of 'shared light' where, for much of the play, the entire room is fully lit.
Though I can see the point of that device, the judicious use of more focused stage lighting would still have left the room and the audience fairly well-lit too.
But, as it is, the fact that the audience are lit most of the time is distracting in this intimate setting - a situation which doesn't interfere so much in larger venues where this lighting technique is employed.
Writer Andrew Maddock's main idea is a deceptively simple one, even if it is hard to carry out: sometimes, you have to walk away from someone in order to really help them.
However, we don't get to hear nearly enough about Darren to understand his real state of mind and whether he might be suffering from a mental illness.
Most of his dialogue is repeated - like some kind of motivational mantra.
So we are left wondering about his actual mental condition and how his compulsive obsession with running and his delusional belief that he can beat the world's running best armed with a pair of new trainers every month, is a reflection of the working of his mind.
Much of what we're offered only reveals a glimpse of the total truth here, and that feels confusingly unsatisfying.
Similarly, we don't hear very much about the siblings' father - apart from an important event involving Darren.
The ending is unexpected, but it is simply and powerfully realised.
It is enormously affecting, largely because it is about love as much as anything else.
However, it also leaves us with a swathe of unanswered questions about how Darren in particular will face the future.
That might be intentional, but it leaves a troubling after-taste.
A thought-provoking idea reflected in an inspired ending, coupled with authentic playing and fine music, justify a visit, but the play as a whole feels rather thin on detail.
Links and related content
ActDrop listing for Theatre N16
Our show listing for Olympilads
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