Theatre N16, London – until 26 August 2017
‘I ran as fast as I could. I ran and I ran and I ran until I couldn’t run anymore…’ Lonesome Schoolboy return to Theatre N16, after He(art), with Olympiads. A tale about far more than sporting aspiration. Set around Summer 2012 in Wembley, in the shadow of one of London’s biggest sporting venues, Simeon (Rhys Yates) is a carer for his brother Darren (Nebiu Samuel) since his sister, Abigail (Michelle Barwood) left home and his father died. Darren is a difficult character who finds solace in running at the local track. A passion indulged by his father it soon becomes clear that the extent of Darren’s talents is a delusion.
Abigail’s return is the catalyst for Rhys to rethink his life. Will he move on with his sister and her children or stay with his brother, a man who needs and clearly doesn’t have much support.
Andrew Maddock, after a rocky start, is one of my favourite writers and working with Niall Philips direction has really brought out the best in him in the last year, especially in terms of set design with a running track taking centre stage and the audience presented in the round with the option of sitting on cushions on the floor. In a small space, such as Theatre N16 this is bold but works so well. He also seems to build on his strengths as a writer, his build up has always been good but I no longer dread the ending of his plays.
The performances are great too, Yates encompassing what it means to care and his own redemption. His move from a common thief to working as head of accounts at Addison Lee is a believable look at how and why people change. He needs to look after Darren now because he never helped Abigail or his late father. Samuel’s portrayal of Darren is sensitive but doesn’t hold back; a glance from Samuel is about his own awareness which is continually masked by his delusions of skill. He doesn’t just believe he will beat Usain Bolt in the future, he believes he will be beating him in the upcoming London Olympic Games. Darren is a nightmare, ungrateful and spoilt he hasn’t just been let down by his family he has been let down by the same system that nearly destroyed Simeon as a delinquent-encouraged into sport and activities to curb his behaviour instead of solving what caused it in the first place.
Michelle Barwood (recently brilliant in Bechdel Testing Life) subtle performance as Abigail is the highlight of the night. Her motives for coming back, much like her motives for joining a church, has a much darker undercurrent than it may seem. Is she too looking for redemption or just a holiday or take her brother away from a sibling she holds in contempt. Her inability to forgive Darren shapes the progression of this story. I constantly questioned whether she was truly open to reconciliation with him.
Olympiads is not only a look at how little has changed in social policy but it is a fascinating play about family and responsibility; both individual and as a society and a great start to Scott Ellis’ first season as Artistic Director.
Olympiads is on until 26 August. Tickets from £12. https://lineupnow.com/event/olympilads