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The story of the four-minute mile: Iffley Road running track, Oxford
In May 1954, Roger Bannister became the first person on record to run a mile in under four minutes, right here in Oxford on the Iffley Road Running Track. As part of their PlaysOut series, Oxford Playhouse have produced this retrospective and reflection on the event and its effect on those involved, and those who have been inspired by it.
The audience gather beside the running track itself, and are given race numbers. The race number you receive dictates the order in which you join the speakers walking around the track. There are three guides for the performance; Mara (Janet Etuk) a modern day Olympic wannabe, Jack (Jack Trow) a commentator, of sorts, and Michael (Jake Oldershaw — who is also the show’s director and co-writer) who explains the context of the show through the prism of the radio and the music of the time. Throughout all these walks around the track, Roger Bannister (Timothy Allsop) makes his presence known, sometimes in unexpected ways.
Although there are moments of audience participation, by and large they are at tangents to the show; this is more akin to a walking tour than anything. For the most part, the guides maintain the balance between the informative and the evocative; putting Bannister’s achievement in cultural, local and a sporting context.
Only occasionally does the show tip over into the twee and insubstantial. This is most common when it tries to make some rather large thematic leaps regarding some of their subjects. The worst offender is probably Janet Etuk’s Mara — she’s the emotional lynchpin of the show, but her material did seem a little underdeveloped, and her links to Bannister are not always clear or thought through.
By the end of the walks, you do feel like you’ve approached the subject in an unusual and thought-provoking manner. Although it doesn’t always hang together — which, for this kind of show, is frequently a problem — there is enough here to warrant a visit.