imove - Yorkshire's cultural programme for London 2012 commissioned Kaite O’Reilly’s new play 'LeanerFasterStronger' focusing on diversity and the interplay between sport and art. Jo Verrent reviews a performance at the Sheffield Crucible
I have to come clean here, I don’t get sport. Don’t watch it, don’t participate and never get as far as the back pages in a newspaper. Yet Kaite O’Reilly’s Leanerfasterstronger had me thinking and talking about sport all the way home – and that’s an hour and a half from Sheffield. Bit of a record.
The play is set at a conference where sport scientists, athletes, journalists and sponsors have gathered for cross cutting dialogue and debate. At the end of the day over a meal, four delegates are arguing about the moral, political and aesthetic future of sport.
The performances were great and the level of ideas presented was complex and fascinating - new takes on bio-engineering and medical science sparking off every minute. If we could genetically engineer changes in sexual behaviour and make people less promiscuous, would we? Will countries with lax legislation become destinations for enhancement surgery? How exactly do we define human in relation to sport?
I’m quite into immersive theatre at the moment and wondered if the work could have been pushed more in this direction? How would it have felt to be at the dinner table with the characters? To have been an actual part of the debate? To have had the chance to answer back and add my own perspective?
I’m looking forwards to taking part in some online debate around these issues as part of imove and perhaps this is the idea? (The piece is presented as part of Yorkshire’s cultural programme for London 2012 – imove – and its strand called ‘Extraordinary Moves’ focusing on diversity and the interplay between sport and art).
As it was, the play was presented in the round, with eight blocks providing the staging – a circle, which divided into four segments, and four square blocks. Personally, I found the staging unhelpful. I wanted chrome, glass and plastic – echoing the brave new world I was hearing about. I got grey painted wood. The materials used to create the final image – a man pedaling furiously on a gleaming bike, creating the spark of life - were more successful for me. There was also projection – on a circle in the ceiling and on the table and/or floor depending on where the staging was, but again, I was unsure of its purpose within the piece as a whole.
Kaite’s work is always rich in language, tone and concept – and this work didn’t disappoint. Almost like a radio play, the characters were fixed by excellent vocal characterisation, and simple movement elements. The work was theoretical – stretching thought and opinion - which can make for static theatre. I was drawn to the more emotional stories – the brother and sister furiously competing for whose life had suffered the most due to his excellence on the track. I wanted more of their story, more on the human impact, to help me contextualize the ideas and make them more concrete.
And so to the big question the piece raises. An elite sports person, having peaked at the top of their performance and about to lose their sponsorship, adulation and the focus of their life … would they deliberately choose surgical enhancement to remain competitive? Basically, would they fake an injury to join the brilliant ranks of elite athletes with impairments?
It's an interesting one, but possibly presented without some of the social context around disability that I think is so important – especially at the moment as benefit and care cuts bite, disability hate crime statistics rise, and access and inclusion appear to slip further down the agenda more than ever before. Yes, there are advantages to the diversity that impairment brings, and we may well be moving technologically towards a world where enhanced bodies can be leaner, faster and stronger – but I think we are a long way from seeing ‘disability’ as desirable within our society.
Leanerfasterstronger presents a fascinating glimpse into a brave new world. It certainly provides plenty of food for thought. So go and get your mind enhanced! It’s running until the 2nd June at Sheffield Crucible as part of imove, Yorkshire’s cultural programme for London 2012.
LeanerFasterStronger is a Chol Theatre and Sheffield Theatres co-production.
To book, call 0114 249 6000 or visit www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk
23 May – 2 June 2012 at 7.45pm
(no performances on Sundays)
Matinees: 2.15pm 31 May
& 2.15pm 2 June
The June 2012 BBC Ouch! podcast featured an online debate about cyborgs and cures with playwright Kaite O'Reilly [go to the last twenty minutes of the podcast to listen].
LeanerFasterStronger has attracted reviews on the Sheffield Theatre's website and from the Guardian. You can read Kaite O'Reilly's responses to comments about the play and questions raised about the Olympics on her wordpress blog