Review: Ventoux

A stage adaptation of the hardest race in the world

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Courtesy of Lancaster Arts

This short play from 2Magpies was energetically and intuitively delivered by a talented duo of cyclist-actors. The fantastic and inventive use of props and video footage allowed the actors to recount some of the thrilling plays of the 2000 Tour de France.

The pre-show routine of planking, furious pedalling, and nonchalant swigging of mystery alcohol set the scene for what turned out to be one of the greatest sporting events there had ever been, albeit one fuelled by more drugs than there had ever been. Ventoux focussed on the battle for the yellow jersey between Lance Armstrong, the headstrong and (at the time) beloved American, and Marco Pantani, the homegrown and media-shy Italian. From their origins and very different backgrounds, both overcame their own personal adversities: the spread of Lance’s cancer from his testicle to his brain was graphically and dramatically displayed with white chalk on the black lycra skinsuit; Marco’s alcoholism and destructive, addictive, character traits were represented by senseless submissions to cycling and to drugs.

Using motifs from the final climb of stage 12 of the 2000 Tour de France, where Lance gifted Marco the victory in a cruelly calculated display of tactics, the play deftly draws on biographical details which ultimately led to their two very different fates – sporting immortality as a household name, versus suicide alone in a hotel room by drug overdose four years later. Acting out the different anecdotes, pieced together from scattered sources, gave new meaning to each rider’s narrative, such as when Marco frantically attaches drug-stuffed envelopes to his opponent’s bike, or when Lance arrogantly brandishes his silicone charity wristbands – one for every Tour de France victory.

Andy Routledge (Armstrong) and Tom Barnes’ (Pantani) dexterity with their bikes, manoeuvring them around the stage and mounting them at extreme angles while balanced on symbolic cool boxes, emphasised the dynamism that bike-racing is not well known-for. Gravity defying gradients, and rhythmic pedalling, were combined with contemporary footage from Mount Ventoux, with original race commentary played over the top to recreate an authentic tension.

Re-imagining celebrities’ lives for the stage in retrospect is often a difficult dramatic art, especially two people who were so intensely examined by sports fans and journalists. The play was probably best approached by an audience who were familiar with the sport and with the race, but not so well-versed in the two riders’ personal battles that every twist in the story was anticipated. The timeline was somewhat confusing, with what seemed like artistic prescience turning into all-out non-linear chronology.

Nevertheless, the stamina and effort of the two actors was clearly evident by the finale – both drenched in sweat and adrenaline. The post-show discussion was well-worth staying for, resulting in an in-depth discussion between an audience of enthusiasts, and the actors, who were by-then experts in cycling canon, both from character research, and from the sensory experience of recreating the physical effort of climbing Ventoux.