Ever fancied doing a 2.4 mile swim, 112 miles on a bike, and then running a marathon? No, me neither – but I’m fascinated by those that do. Hannah Nicklin is one of them, setting herself the challenge of completing an Ironman Triathlon in the year she turned thirty. Equations for a Moving Body looks at the science and motivation behind extreme physical challenges, as well as at the people who share the journey: the coaches, training partners, friends and family.
The format of the show sees Nicklin sharing information live from the internet (what faith in a broadband connection!), including pictures, video clips, data from websites that log performance, and maps of training sessions. Alternating with these, there are sections where she talks directly to the audience.
An early video leaves us in no doubt as to the kind of people she is discussing. We see two women, legs entirely gone at the end of an Ironman; the victor the one who thinks to crawl first, and it’s all for fourth place. Who would do this to themselves? Nicklin recounts conversations with sports psychologists and sports scientists, but truly comes to life when she discusses training sessions (focussing on cycling and running, as swimming is already her “small kind of superpower”). It’s the competition and camaraderie that inspires her, and she excels at describing the physical and mental experience of hard training sessions and competitions.
But the difficulty with this format is that it renders Nicklin very static. The screen is always on, and it dominates the space, so standing in front of it is clearly a no-no. This leaves Nicklin with little room to manoeuvre: she’s either operating the laptop at her desk on one side, or standing addressing the audience from the other. It seems a curious self-imposed limitation for someone so obviously active and full of energy; why not just turn the screen off between clips, and use the whole of the stage to engage with the audience?
It also leaves the performance feeling like a conference presentation, which I think sells the experience short. Nicklin is very articulate, the show is well-structured, and I suspect she puts as much effort into her cadences when performing on stage as she does on a bicycle. The language is poetic at times, and she makes effective use of repeated motifs – particularly the counting down of distances when training or competing.
She also recognises the value of the support of friends and family, not to mention fellow competitors, spectators and encouraging marshals. There is one startlingly moving moment when she pays silent tribute to a friend who has died, and reflects on his final moments in a shockingly literal application of Equations for a Moving Body.
Anyone with any kind of interest in sport, whether as a spectator or participant, will find this an intriguing hour. But I can’t help feeling that, with some very achievable changes to the staging, it could be a more dynamic spectacle… one in keeping with Nicklin herself.