Andrew Maddox’s new play cleverly explores the complex relationship between mental health and family loyalty. Set against a backdrop of the London 2012 Olympics, Darren (played by Nebiu Samuel) is convinced that he’s about to beat Usain Bolt in the 100 metre finals.
He’s not. We soon work out that Darren is a vulnerable young man with mental health difficulties. After the death of their father, who encouraged Darren to run, Darren’s older brother Simeon (played by the Rhys Yates) has become his main carer. Simeon struggles to hold down a decent job, keep his relationship on track, and look after his sick sibling, whose obsession with running is getting out of hand.
Their sister Abigail (Michelle Barwood) has long given up caring for Darren and moved away to start a new life, but returns – only to plead for Simeon to do the same. Simeon loves his brother and would never consider it, but with the 2012 Olympics fast approaching, Darren is delving further into his make-believe world, becoming more obsessive, more demanding – pushing Simeon to breaking point.
The set is beautifully designed, with light bulbs hanging from the ceiling and coloured cushions surrounding the stage – creating a cozy feeling of home-life. However, this is abruptly interrupted by a long stage, which runs through the middle of the set, emulating a running track. As the audience arrives, Darren is frantically running back and forth along it, and continues this as the play progresses. The other characters move seamlessly out of his way, highlighting the jaded chaos of their world and symbolising the growing family fragmentation.
All are impressive, but Rhys Yates gives a stand out performance as Simeon. He presents a likeable and relatable young man, torn between family loyalty and living his own life, and we genuinely feel for him. The ending of Olympilads in particular is beautiful and touching – and definitely leaves you wanting more.
Olympilads is at Theatre N16 from Tuesday 8th to 26th of August