Citizens of Great Britain, do you remember a strange sense of bonhomie surrounding the London Olympic Games? I do, and so do Clare Sheppard and David Callaghan, who, dismayed with the current state of society, attempt to resurrect it, or at least analyse it. They do this through the personal story of Holly, Sheppard’s character, audience variations on Olympic sports and analyses of footage of the games, and it is funny, heartfelt, and a cracking good time.
Holly is a cheerful, Leftie, sarcastic Glaswegian who, along with her talking dog Alan, is ready to seriously take the mickey out of the upcoming games, and is entirely apathetic. Her mind is then turned by the brilliance of the opening ceremony, especially its foregrounding of working class history and how that structures modern Britain. Her genuine joy and how it impacts her life unfolds throughout the play, and is punctuated by her gleefully making fun of the Olympics and events around the Olympics. As she explains, part of the joy of that period was that you could be dealt a bad hand (tickets for dressage rather than volleyball) and just enjoy reveling in it’s ridiculousness rather than complaining. The playwright sits opposite her on-stage at a small prop desk, cueing projected videos and photos, in what feels like an extra effort to bring back the Olympic honesty into every facet of our lives.
She wonderfully tears apart Tory MP Aidan Burley’s plea for Britain to be simplified to “red arrows, Shakespeare and the Stones”, mocks the idea of marathon commentary and was fascinated by the diving. Peppered throughout the show are dry as a bone witticisms, there’s rarely a subject that goes by that doesn’t get a wry remark. There may be a few too many, the show occasionally slowing a little, but each one’s a winner and the performance is strong enough to take its time. The conversations with Alan’s voice recordings are a little ill-fitting though, and Holly does his voice during the show anyway. It may be a tighter piece without the poor quality soundbites.
Holly feels incredibly genuine, and when she’s whipping up the audience to play volleyball or attacking Nigel Farage you can feel a bit of that “Olympic Spirit” coming back. While so much of the show is great fun to watch and participate, it has a steely resolve that runs through it, in its honest Hard-Left beliefs, and in it’s charting of Britain’s decline since the Olympics. It’s not comprehensive, but it’s enough to introduce a note of urgency and somberness, especially for Holly’s personal story. It starts with the diminished public interest in the Paralympics, despite it being an extraordinary display of spirit, and things are tracked slowly downhill from there. The purposely disjointed narration really hits harder than expected, and adds another dimension.
This is a wry, passionate piece of theatre that takes issue with the apathy and small-mindedness it sees society being consumed by. It doesn’t stand idly by, and it doesn’t take no for an answer. I believe it shows true Olympian Spirit.