The Oppression Olympics

Mon 14th – Wed 16th August 2017


Anna Ley

at 20:47 on 16th Aug 2017



Ready, get set, go! It’s a rush to the podium of pity for Ruth, Alex, Milo and Hayley in this anarchic competition of ‘biggest loser’. Stripping back the superlative of the ‘unluckiest’ in an uncomfortably confrontational comedy, ‘The Oppression Olympics’ scrutinises the sob story of talent shows and newspaper articles through the interaction of four characters’ efforts to showcase their struggles. ‘Making a song and a dance’ out of their disabling life events, as the cleverly cartoonish characters boast about their problems, the audience is made ever the more aware that they are sat watching a performance to elicit a reaction just as the characters parade about their struggles to lure the attention of others.

The revolving characters acting within short, shifting scenes of momentary attention fantastically mimic the anarchic amplification of their setbacks within which we all engage. And likewise dramatizes the domino effect of the injustice when people are isolated by not having the luxuries of such setbacks through its cascading scenes. A play that unpicks the very notion of ‘I need to do something about it’ and then not actually acting beyond word, the seemingly static and slow-moving pace that may appear tiresome, could depict exactly that. Akin to the frustratingly repeated fact that LGBT people are four times more likely to commit suicide, the play’s similarly disabling effect suspends us within the inaction of those trying to ‘help’.

A perfectly punny script of wonderfully poignant writing that conveys the routine peacocking of problems inherent to us all, it is the transition from script to stage that this play of potential falters. With some lacklustre moments and at points starved from the self-pity that is arguably integral to this plot, a lot of the alarmingly relatable words were lost. Having said that, the understated wit of Hayely and extroverted Milo (Harrison Macneill) fuse into some of the funniest moments of the play and did, in places, successfully illuminate the raw humour of the script. When Milo’s fun-running favour collapses into a larger expenditure on the media-alluring novelty cheque and costume, the play transforms from a critique of societies’ survival of the un-fittest and begins to attack the altruism in us all. StraightUp’s stage show scarily alters us to the myth that is a selfless deed, playing out the mummies group, an opinionated social group whose judgements haunt Hayley- a microcosm for our own judgemental age.

‘StraightUp’ certainly do not shy away from confronting the egocentric side to humanity. A fresh yet cynical take on the selfishness of us all, ‘The Oppression Olympics’ holds a feverish correlation with the competitive surge for the title of the unluckiest, the survival of the un-fittest.


Nina Attridge

at 11:04 on 17th Aug 2017



‘The Oppression Olympics’ took the quintessentially British art of complaining and put to it a question of greater moral importance: ‘what right do we have to complain, when so many are so much worse off than ourselves?’ They are not the first to ask this, and not even the first show I’ve seen this year to tackle the same issue.

Sadly, the execution of this troupe’s answer to such an enormous question was repetitive and obvious. The same point was drilled home with force, a good point nonetheless, but the interjections of comedy were too few and far between for my liking. The moments of black comedy were the show’s shining glory. Cringe-inducing awkward conversations between a group of dislikeable characters made me as uncomfortable as I imagine writers Mark Bittlestone and Will Dalrymple intended. The descent into total silliness was a welcome relief in the form of an unexpected husband and wife musical outburst. While unfitting to the rest of the show, it felt good to let out a wholesome belly laugh at the downright ridiculous after the previous chuckles had all been in response to sheer awkwardness at the insensitivity of the characters.

The seeds of a good production were certainly present, but there was a disjointedness to the scenes that made it difficult to engage with the story. The approach to production was certainly well-considered, with the adaptable staging seamlessly taking us from setting to setting with no loss of understanding of the plot. There was never a joke that didn’t land, and had a more decisive choice been made about the reaction the show wanted to provoke: it would have been a much more satisfying experience to watch. The path to success for this show would have been much clearer if the cast had been able to follow their natural comic timing in a show more evenly weighted between the profound and the humorous. Their downfall lay following the path of the didactic fable as far as they did: meaning the result was in a disappointing moral dead-end.


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