The Summit

Wed 14th – Fri 23rd August 2013

reviews

Victoria Ferguson

at 09:22 on 22nd Aug 2013

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A bare stage and five performers simply dressed in black and grey. It isn’t on the same scale as the £11 billion spectacle that was the London 2012 Olympic Games, and yet ‘The Summit’ captures the essence of the press conferences, the interviews, and all of those victories and failures that we followed breathlessly over the course of last summer. This original production by Scratchworks blends acting and physical theatre in order to create a piece so accurately evocative of the passion and conflict that permeate the ruthless world of competitive sport.

Kate Griffin’s portrayal of a young British athlete training for the Olympics is outstanding and had me engaged in a ‘chicken or the egg’ dilemma as I watched her powerful, emphatic dancing melt seamlessly into a convincing domestic scene with her mother and sister. It is impossible to tell whether Griffin trained first as a dancer or an actress because she does both so incredibly well.

The true hero of ‘The Summit’ is Milli Jarlett. With Jarlett playing ‘The Rival’, I felt compelled to dislike her until I realised that she is the great talent behind the show’s ambitious and contemporary choreography. Much of the dancing is in unison, and the five performers are confident and precise in their movements. Their impressive timing allows each individual to move as though the others were just extensions of him or herself; the various limbs of one vibrant entity. As for the bikes, one barely has the opportunity to notice that they aren’t there. The simulated cycling of the performers is so convincing that before long I actually started to see the bikes beneath them.

The dancing fuses effortlessly with scenes of dialogue in order to create a true visual delicacy. As the coach’s voice echoes through the microphone with a physiological explication of the demands that the athlete puts on her body, Jarlett takes centre stage, performing a stunning motif of stretches, balances and graceful contortions. Moving with effortless control, she looks like an Ancient Greek statue brought to life.

‘The Summit’ is a captivating and profoundly emotional exploration of the physical and psychological pressures that are the price one pays for being the best of the best. Personal sacrifice, media attention, drugs, injury, are all subject to scrutiny during these short 45 minutes. The sound and lighting correspond wonderfully with moments of tension and climax in order to transform an empty, black stage into a dynamic space of electric energy.

As an athlete, you are only as good as your last performance. This is a rule that Scratchworks has taken to heart, clearly determined to deliver nothing but the best in this outstanding theatrical triumph.

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Kayte Williams

at 09:31 on 22nd Aug 2013

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I know very little about dance and physical theatre, but anyone can tell that 'The Summit' is phenomenal. Dance seems to be the perfect way to convey the triumphs and disasters of sport and the pressure of the Olympic spotlight. The show's clear structure divides the issues of drugs, training and media attention, as well as showing the violent emotions an athlete experiences. The fact that Milli Jarlett, who graduated just this year, not only dances extraordinarily, but has also choreographed the whole fifty minutes, is unbelievable.

The dancing is always athletic and often violent. There are a couple of beautiful moments, but usually the movement seems like an ordeal, an exertion, with great acting to go along with the athletes' exhaustion. It's always clear what's going on, while the spoken media interviews root the story in the real world. Ed Johnson, in particular, has a really confident spoken performance, while Joanna Tew as the mother is touching in her reminder of the darker side of professional sport.

For a newcomer to physical theatre, the production of a child's tricycle as a prop, or a single bootlace, initially seems a little ridiculous. However, the show's two directors make it very clear what these objects symbolize: childish enthusiasm and disciplined training, respectively. The performers' youth suits the young ages of Olympic athletes, and I feel sure that the need to excel rivals physically has affected these young dancers too. You'd never know by their performance though – there's no arrogance or self-consciousness, but all the cast seem committed to telling the honest truth about an athlete's bittersweet rise to the top.

The atmosphere often varies, to keep the audience's attention – the paparazzi section is a particular highlight. The stage lights blaze at the audience like flashbulbs, the performers physically surround the athlete to symbolize media attention, and your heart races with nerves as she prepares to compete. The emotions of fear and pride are extremely well conveyed, as is the familial concern of what such pressure is doing to a young person.

Despite her representative label - 'The Athlete' - the protagonist's character is well sketched out as she shows her determination to succeed and withstands the temptation of performance-enhancing drugs. The ability of the performers is demonstrated as much by athletic stamina as by the grace and suppleness of the dancing.

The choice of title - 'The Summit' - may initially sound dull and highbrow, but this is contrasted by the show's exciting and suspenseful storyline. The focus remains on the athlete's difficult rise to the top, rather than her final moment of Olympic competition, which is told via recorded commentary and remains not particularly moving. However, this is an eye-opening and very relevant performance, told maturely and movingly by a team definitely destined for the top.

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