Director: Andy Routledge
Reviewer: Andrea Allen
Ventoux documents the brutal contest between Marco Pantani and Lance Armstrong to win stage 12 of the 2000 Tour de France, a fight which to this day remains one of the most famous battles in the history of the Grand Tours. And it’s easy to see why it’s still selling out audiences as the show embarks on its third national tour.
With Kraftwerk’s Tour de France piping up at intervals, sweat dripping from both Pantani (Matthew Seager) and Lance Armstrong (Alexander Gatehouse) and a sparse set consisting of two bikes and three coolboxes, Ventoux’s stripped back presentation creates a palpable atmosphere of pace, mental hardship, determination and competition that’s impossible rip your eyes from.
Original commentary is spliced with dialogue while a screen projects images of the infamous climb filmed first hand by the production company during a visit to Mont Ventoux at the start of the production’s creation. Periods of silent activity, slick cues and split-second smooth delivery mirror the discipline and isolation of professional cycling and the difference a split second can make, and did indeed make on that famous day of 13 July 2000.
Seager and Gatehouse’s give equally captivating performances as Pantani and Armstrong. While both displaying arrogance, Seager’s is underscored with a vulnerability which contrasts with Gatehouse’s unrelenting self-confidence and there’s no one that could fail to be impressed with the RPM’s that both rack up throughout this play. The period addressed has since been tarnished with doping allegations, many if not most of them now proven, an issue that gradually becomes more apparent as the play progresses and perhaps could have been explored further by director Andy Routledge.
Aside from the above, the single criticism of this piece is Routledge’s decision to project a humane and remorseful image of Armstrong as the play concludes. It’s disputed whether his real-life counterpart is a sociopath, a chronic narcissist, a pathological liar or all of the above. However, one thing that’s indisputable in light of subsequent testimony from Armstrong’s teammates and others who were torn down around him is that his ruthless pursuit for success was savage and at the expense of all others, and his years as a cancer survivor poster-boy actually masked a self-serving bully who would humiliate and manipulate anyone to get to the top.
This reign of control and sadism is summed up simply by his admission, during a touching tribute to Pantani, based on a real-life interview with Armstrong, that he regrets being such an ‘arsehole’ outside of competition. Although they’re Armstrong’s own words, the ‘nice guy’ portrayal at the finishing line feels problematic and is a frustratingly significant downfall in an outstandingly gripping piece of theatre for cycling fans and non-cycling fans alike.
Runs until 12th October 2018 | Image: Contributed