Review: Olympilads, Theatre N16

Anyone who was around in 2012 (or indeed most of 2011) will remember the HYPE that surrounded the London Olympic games. Stepping through the doors at Theatre N16 and seeing copious amounts of Union Jack bunting brought all my memories of cramped tubes, purple jackets and Jessica Ennis flooding back.

Set during the Games, Olympilads by Lonesome Schoolboy Productions is about three estranged siblings from Wembley, West London. Simeon (Rhys Yates) plays the peacemaker as he tries to coordinate a meeting between the three of them; as Abigail (Michelle Barwood) has refused to talk to the youngest, Darren (Rhys Yates) since their late father’s death several years earlier. Like any family there is history between these three, but unlike many families there is a lot of unshared history that is uncovered throughout the play.

The stage is an elevated running track through the centre of a living room of large cushions and blankets that the audience could choose to place themselves in. The play ends as it begins with Darren running up and down, up and down, up and down this track as he feeds his obsession and illusion of being faster than Usain Bolt. The track is a brave but effective staging decision; it gives a strong sense of journey when the characters move along it, as well as providing a perfect space for confrontation.

The sibling relationships are believable: complicated and volatile, but also with lovely shared moments of amiability. One of the most moving moments is when Abigail performs a reading entitled ‘What is love?’ for her local church. Beautifully written and powerfully performed by Barwood, the eldest sister speaks of the difficulties and complications of this emotion, managing to avoid cringe cliché. It is sincere, unpretentious and powerful.

One problem of this play, however, is its length. At only 50 minutes long, there are a few too many ambiguities that are left unexplained. The ending is slightly abrupt, leaving one with a sense of dissatisfaction, which seems a shame given the impressive momentum and developments of the rest of the play. The potential of this play is large and with some fleshing out it could be a masterpiece. As it is, it’s  slightly skeletal and therefore slightly frustrating.

In all, this is a well-directed play that touches nicely on the complications of family relationships without being cliché and I would like to think Olympilads bodes well for future Lonesome Schoolboy Productions.

Olympilads is playing at Theatre N16 until August 26.