Last night I went to see Pedal Pusher, the new production by Theatre Delicatessen. I've seen a lot of work by budding young theatre company before and all have been brilliant, therefore, being a keen cyclist, my expectations were high for this new performance... and they didn't fail.
Pedal Pusher follows three Gods of the cycling world - Jan Ullrich, Marco Pantani and Lance Armstrong - over five years that changed sporting history forever. From Jan Ullrich winning the Tour de France in 1997, through the near-collapse of the Tour de France in 1998, Armstrong's battle with cancer and the allegations of drug abuse that have dogged cycling for so long. For those who don't know Le Tour well it used to be a hotbed for drug taking, cheating and extreme doping - anything to win. Pedal Pusher drives this topic well clearly but balances it brilliantly with the intensity of riding one of the greatest cycling challenges in the world. You never see riders actually taking drugs either adding to the speculative atmosphere that was hyped up by the media. The insanity of Le Tour grows throughout the show to a fantastic climax that leaves you in a horrific state of awe.
Pedal Pusher's brave and beautifully constructed bike racers are brilliant. Inspired by Raging Bull, no two stages are portrayed in the same way. In one case the actors mimic a final sprint, other times chairs are used to expertly show the different riding styles, another race is done through freeze frame, another as a physical fight between two actors. It's hard to describe but damn it looks good and with the visuals being accompanied by a dramatic commentary you are truly gripped on the action. The scenes really made me think how sometimes in graphic design we opt for the most realistic or down the line approach because we're not brave enough to try different, untested methods. One of my aims for the coming year is to try and be more courageous in my work drawing inspiration from productions like Pedal Pusher.
The script has been developed a lot from biographies and real accounts which gives the play a documentary feel. Cyclists and followers of cycling will pick up on the detail that really elevates the play beyond just a show about cyclists. You can tell that the main people involved are part of the sport. However, this certainly doesn't dilute the enjoyment of the less cycling mad audience members. Throughout you hear certain phrases that you've heard these sporting heroes speak on television, which ads a great realism and nostalgia. One of my favourite lines is by Lance Armstrong and, being the geek I am, was waiting for them to say it. It's a line that has become Armstrong's defence for all the endless drug allegations and speculation that has dogged his career. It was then used in the Nike commercial below to great effect.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed Pedal Pusher and it took me back to when I used to cycle regularly in London. Afterwards, all I wanted to do was get on my bike and chew up some miles on the slick London roads. The thrill, the chase, the effort, the determination is all there. The major topics of doping, athleticism, euphoria and despair are intricately woven together. If you've only been grabbing the occassional highlight of this years tour, Pedal Pusher will make you want to grab a bike.
Tickets are on sale now - a great night out.