“I’d forgotten how beautiful it was, riding a bicycle”
First performed in 2009, Theatre Delicatessen’s Pedal Pusher took a searing look at a crucial five year period in the Tour de France when a doping scandal threatened this most noble of events but the sport managed to find a saviour to take them into the brightest of futures – a cyclist by the name of Lance Armstrong… With subsequent real life proving to be more theatrical (or soap opera-like tbh) than anyone could ever have foreseen, the production has been “reworked and re-imagined” to more fully explore the lengths people will go to in order to succeed.
The focus falls on three cyclists who all had the potential to become legendary but ended up infamous due to their various demons. Marco Pantani suffered career-threatening injuries after being hit by a car, Jan Ullrich experienced crippling depression, Lance Armstrong battled pervasive testicular cancer and as we’ve come to see, all three used performance enhancing drugs to carve their niche in a sport riddled with the practice. Conceived and scripted by Roland Smith from a variety of found texts, it fashions a most compelling story that is gripping in its intensity.’
Smith also directs and it is here where the show really finds its strength as a piece of physical theatre. Sophie Mosberger’s original design has been reconfigured for this new space in a Farringdon office block by Dan Ball and what it manages to achieve with four metal barriers and four chairs is ingenious and in a couple of instances, nothing short of spectacular. The movement, originally by Tonny A and adapted here by Alexander Guiney, is hugely stylish yet still captures the grinding effort of endurance cycling and the forceful personalities of these sportsmen.
Tom Daplyn shines most vividly as the tragic Pantani, a striking figure but one unable to deal with the consequences of his actions; Gareth Kennerley’s inscrutable Ullrich is good but he blisters in the smaller role of Christophe Bassons, a fellow cyclist ruined for daring to speak the truth; Gergo Danka gives a good account of the resourceful journalist hunting for the truth; and Christopher Tester captures much of the insouciant arrogance of Armstrong, a grim set to his jaw as sets himself up as untouchable, whether by disease, drug-testing or decency. Exhilaratingly good (and make sure you explore the bar, Joe Iredale’s immersive design is fantastic).