The Prize, Underbelly

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Originally written for Fest Magazine.

It’s not the winning, it’s the taking part that counts, right? Maybe not for the hundreds of determined Olympic hopefuls we have anxiously watched compete during London 2012. It is this passion and intense desire to succeed that is explored in this delicately constructed verbatim piece from Murmur and Live Theatre, drawing on interviews with British athletes past, present and future. For them, failing is simply not an option.

Performed by a cast of five on an almost bare stage, the power and the poignancy rightly lies with the voices of those interviewed, their experiences communicated through the actors. Murmur has spoken to a huge range of athletes, from a female diver who competed in the 1950s, when the honour really was the taking part, to athletes with ambitions for this year’s Olympics and Paralympics.

The carefully selected and assembled snatches of the resulting interviews reveal the athletes’ drive, dedication and struggles without ever tipping into the trite sentimentalism that the media around the Games has often fallen prey to. The principal emotional manipulation comes courtesy of projected text revealing whether or not those speaking qualified for the Games, a device that could be intrusive and heavy handed but is here executed with heartbreaking simplicity.

Propelled by the energy of the Games’ success and looking towards the Paralympics, The Prize resonates perfectly with current national feeling. But by being so of the moment, it is difficult to envisage much of a future life for the piece. Beautifully formed though it is, it feels—much like the sporting triumph it revolves around—fleetingly ephemeral.

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