Take a jumble of three cool boxes, two bunches of flowers, a half-bottle of cognac, a suspicious pile of beige powder, two road-racing bikes, a projection screen and two pro-bike riders. There in a nutshell is 2Magpies Theatre's attempt before a Pegasus full house at suggesting the day on 13th July 2000 when the then famous and now infamous top cyclists Lance Armstrong (USA) and Marco Pantani (Italy) did battle up the 1912m limestone Mont Ventoux in Provence during that year's Tour de France.
All-rounder Armstrong was attempting to repeat his win of the year before, while Pantani, the nonpareil specialist climber of his age, had won in 1998, though he had been ominously (in view of his death in 2004 from a heart attack associated with a lethal dose of ultra-pure cocaine) disqualified from the 1999 Giro d'Italia, the second biggest race on the cycling calendar.
During the hour long show, Armstrong (Alexander Gatehouse) and Pantani (Tom Barnes) cycled away on their static bikes, rested, drank from the cool box, poked and prodded and scattered the powder (we'll call it Ready Brek rather than anything more, er, invigorating), and chatted while at intervals the screen was filled with footage of the road up the mountain, at first through Mediterranean scrub and trees, then onto the glittering, barren white limestone of the upper slopes to the red-and-white meteorological station on top. Though we heard the ITV commentary from Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen, in contrast the road that unfolded on the screen was photographed by a 2Magpies camera unit towards dusk on a day in September 2014, seemingly devoid of people and vehicles (and bikes).
One of the questions that the show raised in my mind was what was its target audience. Sports fans with a non-specialist interest in cycling, I guess. People wholly ignorant of pro-cycling would, I think, have been puzzled by the jargon and significance of the events. I doubt whether keen cycling fans would have learned a great deal, or even been given much of a pause for thought.
The basic problem was a dearth of drama. Two supposed rivals spinning their pedals like caged hamsters on a wheel before an empty road unrolling before or behind them made for an intriguingly eerie spectacle, but in the first surprisingly sedentary half there was a longish period where A and P (capably played by Messrs. Gatehouse and Barnes) sat around eating energy bars and staring into space. The rather flat script failed to generate much in the way of insight or humour - two or three titters but no full-on laughter - while the fraught relationship between our two flawed heroes was reduced to desultory bickering. The director told me afterwards they were trying to creating a distancing effect between the men and that day on the mountain; perfectly legitimate, but that distance seemed to me to draw down a film of haze, an unfocused rather than an unblinking gaze at two men and their drug-fuelled struggle.
A worthy try at a potentially interesting subject, even if the execution remained rather stuck in the foothills below the peak.