Kaite O’Reilly’s new play, LeanerFasterStronger is a timely piece exploring issues of sport, science and ethics. The Chol Theatre/Sheffield Theatres production is part of a collaborative arts and science project, Extraordinary Moves, a contribution to the 2012 Cultural Olympiad.
It features four actors (Ben Addis, Kathryn Dimmery, Morven Macbeth and Christopher Simpson) adopting multiple roles throughout as the focus moves between a dinner conversation about the future of sport and athletes engaged in training. All four display great energy and physicality – the play relies a lot on their movement and athleticism, with Simpson having to exercise particularly vigorously at one point. The performers work hard throughout, and impressively deliver their lines whilst skipping, cycling and doing press-ups - although in places the music and sound effects are so loud they can’t be heard. They also switch between multiple accents representing different parts of the UK. However, this is not always successful as sometimes the diction is affected.
This piece raises some complicated, but fascinating, questions about the nature of genetic enhancement and the relationships between sport, science and ethics. These questions are the most provocative and interesting part of the work. However, they only really come through clearly in the sections at the dinner conversation (which is also where the sharpest dialogue occurs). The scenes with the athletes serve to offer little message other than that sport is hard and not necessarily worth it – which seems boldly cynical, although it’s not clear if O’Reilly intended the piece to feel as critical of sport as it does. Reference to the Paralympics comes through late in the piece and in a somewhat clumsy way – there are interesting questions that start to be raised about the role of science and medicine in these games but they’re barely explored, and it is a shame that all of the athlete characters are able-bodied (save for a misjudged incident towards the end of the piece, which feels rather crass).
Although there are lots of nice moments in the play, it doesn’t always feel like a coherent, polished piece. In many ways, both in its form and staging (which was functional, but not especially exciting or innovative - and used projection with seemingly little purpose other than because it could be used), it reminded me of the kind of things we used to produce in our Performing Arts classes at sixth-form college in the mid-1990s. That’s not to say there isn’t still a place for this kind of thematic, fragmented work, but in order for it to excel it needs to be something special and offer something different and new – and it’s here that LeanerFasterStronger doesn’t quite succeed. However, if you are looking for a critical and unusual take on the 2012 Olympics, then this play offers food for thought.
LeanerFasterStronger is at the Crucible Studio, Sheffield until Sat 2nd June