Wednesday, 16 August 2017

REVIEW: Olympilads at Theatre N16

Love, financial struggle and mental illness clash in a family drama born by the prolific collaboration between playwright Andrew Maddock and director Niall Phillips. The pair, who received critical acclaim for their previous productions IN/OUT (A Feeling) and HE(ART), confirm with Olympilads a distinctive empathic approach towards real life dilemmas and the impossibility to find an ideal, or even reasonable, solution for them.

It's the summer 2012 in London. The Olympic Games are on TV all day and for the Londoners, the whole life seem to revolve around this sporting event. Darren (Nebiu Samuel) is training hard to beat Usain Bolt in the Men's 100m Finals. Someone said it can't be done but his father used to believe in him and the young boy knows he must run as fast as he can to win. His sister Abigail (Michelle Barwood) has a grudge against him and sees Darren's detachment from reality as a mere act of selfishness. Their brother Simeon (Rhys Yates) has given up on his private life and works hard to support Darren's dreams and reconcile his estranged siblings. Darren is oblivious to Simeon's efforts, Abigail lacks compassion for Darren and Simeon is tired of keeping it all together.

Played in the round in the intimate N16 Theatre, Olympilads evolves towards an outcome that divides the audience between those who pity Darren and those who sympathise with Abigail. The minimal set, designed by the Lonesome Schoolboy Productions' inhouse team, feels cosy and attracts the audience towards the action. Blankets and cushions are scattered around the space to reach the spectator's feet. A long platform cuts the studio diagonally and becomes, in turns, Darren's running track and part of the indoor furniture. The proximity with the performers adds intensity to an emotional play, which flourishes in Abigail's monologue about love and its darkest implications.

The three actors remain on stage throughout the show and Maddock's compelling script is visually reworked by Phillips' flawless direction. The language is simple, immediate, and the cast deliver the lines with accents and physical notes conformed to the recurring use of slang and strong language. Nebiu Samuel gives body and soul to the difficult role of Darren in a stirring and momentous performance.

Flavour is added by the use of sound and lighting, which guide the audience's
attention whilst the drama unfolds. Mercy Grace's music element reflects the character of the play with an original and varied score tailored around the changeable mood of the scenes.

Olympilads is a short but intense piece of new writing which hits hard the audience with its heart-breaking themes and upsetting finale. Its 50-minute running time and easily relatable topics yield a great potential for expansion, which should become a priority for the creative dream team Maddock-Phillips.

Review by Marianna Meloni

Rating: ★★★★
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