Review: Pádraig O'Connor tackles the madness of marathons in "This, That & The Other"
Maeve Bradley and Ben Waddell run a mini marathon on stage in O'Connor's funny and introspective debut theatrical performance now showing at the Cork Arts Theatre.
The two rules of running a marathon are:
You have to be fucking nuts to run a marathon
You owe it to the universe to tell EVERYONE you ran a marathon
"This, That & The Other", now showing at the CAT Club, a tony theatre on Carroll’s Quay, is an unusual title for a play which pits its two actors against each other in a marathon in an unspecified location. But it delivers in spades on the two rules of running a marathon.
All marathons, wherever they are staged, are ultimately the same: a 26.2 mile or 42 kilometre-long gruelling and tedious race, and O’Connor, in choosing this title signifies he’s using the vernacular of the people.
The two runners, actors Maeve Bradley (“This”) and Ben Waddell (“That”), are stand-ins for anyone who has ever run a marathon; they are foolish, foolhardy, undoubtedly running away from something while at the same time trying to prove something else, and, in “That’s” case massively underprepared for the physical and mental ordeal that is a marathon.
O’Connor makes his two performers run for almost the length of the play. By the time “That”, (played by Waddell) crosses the imaginary finish line at the end of the hour-long play you can see the sweat glistening on him. Waddell is the foil in O’Connor’s play, the eejit who should never have said “yes” when he was asked if he’d run a marathon.
“That” turns up on a stage devoid of props, at what is essentially the start of the race, with his laces untied, signifying his amateurishness (and bravura), but in the course of the race he delivers some of the funniest lines. He loves the shape of his lyrca-clad arse as much as he curses the “cunts” who line the race blowing kisses and cheering him on. All he wants to do is not run a marathon. In fact, to never run a marathon. He’s a guy who sits all day at his desk job and goes home to sit some more.
“This” on the other hand, is gung-ho and quite often sounds like a Hallmark card in real life. (Today is the greatest day of your life malarkey). She’s chasing a goal while running away from much. And when, or if, she hits that goal, what’s next?
It’s plain “This” and “That” are masking quite a lot in trying to run such an epic race, and O’Connor uses the metaphor of the race to peel back the curtains on what’s going on in the private lives of two ordinary lives.
And that’s a good thing, because a play about running, as in the physical act of running a race likely to last anywhere from two to four hours, would quite quickly run out of steam. Rather, O’Connor sets it up so that Bradley and Waddell give glimpses of their character’s sad, ordinary and occasionally OK lives. And truth be told, those are the lives of most marathon runners, perhaps even of elite runners who are trying to chase down the time that so far has escaped nearly every living human being: a sub-two-hour marathon.
“This” and “That” are never, ever going to get near this time. In fact, as the race plays out, it’s not certain that they will even finish the race they’re in.
A marathon has to be endured, and briefly at times too, O’Connor’s play has to be endured. Occasionally the jokes fall flat, or the soliloquy about pain and endurance and the long slog of a marathon is a bit of a slog for the audience.
But, the performances by Bradley and Waddell, both graduates of Dublin’s Lir Academy are terrific, especially as they have to simulate running a marathon, or a mini mini marathon for the duration of the play.
Even more so, in moments of truth and despair delivered by “This” and “That”, O’Connor nails what it’s like to run (stupidly) for hours at a time: you set your mind to repeating simple mantras, you concentrate on nothing. You do anything to get to the end.
"This, That & The Other" is a play that is beautifully suited to the CAT Club and O’Connor has created two characters that runners will identify with. Why do we run, and how do we endure it?
The answer: It’s a bit of this, and that. And the other.
Hopefully we’ll be seeing more soon from the cast and creator of "This, That & The Other".
"This, That & The Other" runs nightly from Tuesday, August 30 to Saturday, September 3 at 8pm at Cork Arts Theatre. Tickets and more information here.
Tonight’s performance (Wednesday, August 31) will be followed by a Q&A with the creative team – Pádraig O’ Connor, Ben Waddell and Maeve Bradley. The Q&A will be facilitated by Sadhbh Barrett Coakley of Alsa Productions.