Devisors: 2Magpies Theatre and Andy Routledge
Director: Matt Wilks
Reviewer: Glen Pearce
Mont Ventoux, on the periphery of the French Alps, holds legendary status among cyclists. Its barren upper slopes the finishing line seen as the definitive Tour de France climb. Not all who tackle it make the challenge, with British cyclist Tom Simpson dying on the assent during the 1967 Tour.
It is, through, two more recent combatants who take centre stage, or should that be road here. Two, now tarnished, stars of the tour whose battle to the top of the ‘windy mountain’ electrified spectators in 2000. Texan Lance Armstrong and Italian Marco ‘The Pirate’ Pantani pedal by pedal as they leave the peloton in their wake as they fight exhaustion in the race for the line.
It was a more innocent age, at least in the eyes of those watching, the hidden darker side of performance-enhancing drugs that were fuelling these impressive mountain ascents still a revelation waiting to be exposed.
This tight two-hander from 2Magpies Theatre may leave those unfamiliar with the world of cycling and the facts behind Armstrong’s in particular stellar fall from grace, slightly confused but fans will lap up the portrayal of the one-upmanship, the pressure and ultimately the price these cycling superstars will face. Armstrong publicly forced to atone on Oprah, Pantani going into terminal (quite literally) decline alone in a hotel room.
With minimalist staging, two bike, three picnic boxes and a backdrop of actual Ventoux film and Phil Liggat’s original race commentary, it’s easy to focus on the men inside the lycra.
It’s an affectionate tribute to two deeply flawed men and, at times, it perhaps comes across as too reverential, slightly hesitant to expose the full levels of duplicity Armstrong in particular was guilty of. We may now know those motivational speeches Armstrong delivers were built on lies but here there still seems to be an element of respect for the fallen star.
Tom Barnes and Alexander Gatehouse never attempt impersonations of Pantani and Armstrong, instead using their natural accents to portray these two giants of cycling. It does allow us to see the men behind the lycra but, in just an hour, we never dig much deeper than the surface to find out what drove them and what fuelled their fall from grace. The pair do, however, deliver impressive physical performances, with cycling skills their heroes would be proud of.
An ascent of Mont Ventoux is a long and winding road and, with so much material available on the titanic battles that have been played out in the world of cycling, we yearn to be taken on a longer excursion into this fascinating subject.
Reviews on 9 March 2017 then continues to tour | Image: Contributed