It’s Not a Sprint, Vault Festival

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by Christina Bulford

Ever felt like you were stumbling through life rather than running it? Living in London can feel like a sprint sometimes, barging up and down escalators and chasing pay cheques whilst trying to hold family and friends, a career and a love life together in your sweaty palms. As if that wasn’t enough, you meet stumbling blocks along the way, like: what day do I need to put the bins out? How many weeks is it acceptable not to wash my sheets? Will I ever be grown-up enough to be in bed by ten, or to do a weekly shop?

Maddie is marking “the big three-zero” by running a marathon, tied to a glitter-filled golden balloon. It is filled with the promise of celebration at the finish line, but as she runs reluctantly towards it and her waiting boyfriend, she doesn’t know if she’ll make it. Or even if she wants to. The finish line is just the beginning of a future she’s not sure she’s ready to meet. But boy, does she want to sling that medal round her neck and beat that pantomime horse.

If you’re a 20- or 30-something this might be the most painfully relatable show you see all festival – or indeed all year – or perhaps ever. Maddie’s ambition to run a marathon is matched admirably by solo writer/ performer Grace Chapman’s ambition to run almost continually throughout the fifty-minute show, expertly timed to a soundtrack of her own thoughts. Maddie converses with her own consciousness like a frenemy that knows her all too well, her self-doubt rising and ebbing as the sweat patches on her top expand.

Chapman cuts a sole figure on an empty stage, a minimalism that chimes with Maddie’s sense of being all alone in a crowded race. The patter of surrounding feet blends seamlessly with her own, it is unobtrusive sound design (from Chris Bartholomew) at its finest.

Chapman may be red in the face and breathless by the end of the performance, but this is a piece less about physical exertion and more about mental preparation. We must remember to breathe out, listen to and pace ourselves and know when to take a rest. It’s a marathon, it’s not a sprint.

It’s Not a Sprint runs through 3 March.

The Play’s the Thing UK is committed to covering fringe and progressive theatre in London and beyond. It is run entirely voluntarily and needs regular support to ensure its survival. For more information and to help The Play’s the Thing UK provide coverage of the theatre that needs reviews the most, visit its patreon.

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