Fredrik Høyer pushes boundaries with his show here, making a performance of himself running – literally. For pretty much the whole hour he pounds on a treadmill, his heart rate on display pulsing up and down on the screen behind. Sweat drips off him and through his T-shirt, as he simultaneously gives insightful and comic commentary on his gruelling journey in pursuit of the finish line of the Oslo Marathon.
Det Andre Teatret’s show comes fresh from selling out at Norway’s National Theatre in Oslo; the show translates well, and Høyer’s clipped Norwegian accent seems made for the irony he utilises to the max in his story. With the clever employment of balloons, a mini mock-finish-line complete with arch, and a trail of toy figures, Høyer takes us on the marathon with him – his relentless running punctuated by amusing interludes with an overhead projector and slides, which share the stories of long-distance runners from history. Runners who, by the way, didn’t have access to the ‘running glasses’ or special shoes designed to counteract overpronation that their contemporaries go in for today – making big business for shops like the one Høyer works in.
It turns out Høyer never actually chose to enter a marathon; the sports shop he worked for arbitrarily registered all their employees. He explains his transformation from someone with no staying power to someone who doesn’t quit, and incorporates a bit of low-key audience participation to help us listen to the voice in his head, as he recreates the mind games he plays with himself en route: pushing at last through the notorious ‘wall’, spilling sweat and tears to get to the finish line.
Japanese author Murakami’s book of the same name is hailed for its thoughtful analogy of running as life. But however evocative, no reading of that slim volume can compare with this lived experience of Høyer’s run. Surely this must be as close as we can get, and yet – curiously for me, since I have run a marathon, and can identify with much of the sentiment and the highs and lows described – we retain the distance of aghast observer. You cannot help but sit there and ask yourself, ‘Why? But, why?’ Motivation and drive are topics which may be well-studied, but they retain their mystery all the same, for all Høyer is at pains to illustrate their hold.
Høyer is funny, and very clever in the way he takes hold of something which has become an almost everyday phenomenon now (you can Google ‘World’s best 30 marathons’) and turns it inside out for forensic inspection. This is an hour of provocative entertainment. I’m not sure anyone will leave burning to run a marathon if they haven’t already, but the show will surely return to the memory of all present next time someone asks them for sponsorship.