Marathon running takes to the theatre stage

Bandit by Brian O'Riordan at the 2012 Dublin Fringe Festival

Break a leg! But mind your cruciates! Brian O’Riordan in a promotional shot for his play ‘Bandit’. (Photo: David Mannion)

Irish athletics and Irish drama: two mighty oaks that stand proudly apart? Perhaps – but occasionally their branches have tangled.

In his autobiography ‘Staying the Distance’, Olympic gold medallist Ronnie Delany shows a couple of photos of his university acting days. Nobel laureate Samuel Beckett told his biographer James Knowlson that in his primary school days in Dublin “I was a fairly good runner at middle to long distances”.

And then there’s my acting career.

As a wide-eyed and enthusiastic first-year university student I signed up for as many societies as were giving out free stuff. (The Philosophy Society were offering a nip of whiskey. I joined at least twice.)

But without any inducement, or even any interest or experience, I also went along to an open audition at the Drama Society.

In a large hall an assortment of first-timers and old hands were paired off at random and asked to read from a script. No character background or stage directions were given except that I had to speak in a Belfast accent. Of course, I have no gift for accents – and I was paired with a girl from Belfast.

There was nothing for it except for me to use the universally-recognised technique for badly attempting a Belfast accent – gurning out of one corner of my mouth while not moving my lower jaw, so that instead I sounded like a pirate who has just been to the dentist for fillings. The Belfast girl was most polite and tolerant of my efforts. “Are you sure you haven’t acted before?” she said, more out of kind-hearted conversation than an actual interest in my life. Had the latter been the case, she may instead have asked if my tooth still hurt, or if I’d like her to mind my parrot.

The call-back list posted outside the hall the next day didn’t include my name, and so ended my university drama career. I didn’t regret it. The choose-your-own-adventure book of life directed me down other paths, including marathon running.

One person who has combined acting and athletics is Brian O’Riordan, an Irish actor who will feature in the Dublin Fringe Festival during September. ‘Bandit’ is his self-penned one-man play that features marathon running.

O’Riordan plays a man declared missing but who has returned to Dublin to compete in his first marathon. Not officially entered in the race, he will race without a number – and try to win. “With Bandit,” says the blurb for the play, “Brian hopes to challenge an audience’s perception of the gap between sport and theatre and to invite them to peer in on one man’s struggle with solitude, guilt and acceptance.”

As it happens, the playwright and actor is himself training to run his first marathon. Where his character aims to win the race, O’Riordan merely wants to run his first marathon in under three hours. That’s ambitious! Still, with both the play and marathon O’Riordan hopes to attract attention and support for Pieta House, an Irish centre for preventing self-harm and suicide.

If you want a theatre experience that brings you an insight into marathon running and other mysterious life decisions, then ‘Bandit’ should interest you.

‘Bandit’, written by and starring Brian O’Riordan, is at the Bewley’s Cafe Theatre on Grafton Street in Dublin on 10-21 September, as part of the Show in a Bag strand of the Dublin Fringe Festival. Find out more about the play and book your tickets at http://www.fringefest.com/programme/bandit

To give you an idea of what the play is about, here’s a short promotional film for ‘Bandit’:

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