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theatre: the Odyssey + the Story of the Four Minute Mile

Books + Ideas, , — May 2012

We saw two plays last week, both of them rather non-traditional. The Odyssey was an aleatoric reworking of The Odyssey, while The Story of the Four Minute Mile was told as the audience walked around the racetrack where Roger Bannister ran the first four minute mile in 1954.

The Odyssey was performed in an intimate setting at the bottom of the Norrington Room at Blackwell's bookshop. There was an act for each of the twenty four books of Homer's epic, and at the start of each an audience member drew a potsherd from a bucket, which provided a formal constraint the performers had to abide by in telling the story of that book. In one case they had to tell the story with each performer providing one word at a time. In another they had to perform while holding onto rods that linked them all into a giant loop. In another they had to perform in Ancient Greek. And so forth. So every performance was different and a good deal of improvisation was involved.

This all worked surprisingly well, and we really enjoyed the evening. The performance was nearly three hours long but never dragged.%0


  1. Odyssey and Homer, I know them by name only and nothing else.

    The four minute mile is the sporting milestone I have read many, many times. It was achieved in an era so-called the golden age of British amateur athletics. with names like Roger Bannister, Gordon Pirie, Chris Chataway,(another chappie by the name of Brasher.)

    There are speculations that the great Kiwi runner Jack Lovelock did run a four-minute-mile years before Bannister but for poor time keeping.

    That said, I think I'd enjoy the experience trackside where it happened, in cold weather or warm. Top it up, there is good food and drinks afterward. Hard to beat.

    Comment by DL — May 2012
  2. I'll carry on.

    The downside to this golden age of British athletics is that none of the iconic names like Bannister, Pirie, won Olympic gold. None, except one Ron Delany, who achieved Olympic glory in winning the 1500m. in 1956, at the Melbourne Olympic Games. But Delany was Irish! I may be stretching things a bit far to include Ron Delany as British. It is heresy.

    Another Irish athlete of note is the controversial swimmer Michelle Smith or Michelle de Bruin. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michelle_Smith . I remember one commentator said to the effect at the time : an athlete may shave a hundredth of a second here and there in a non-endurance event, but Smith did so by a massive .5 of a second off her PB in a short space of time. Improvements of that magnitude just don't happen that way at elite level. There's got to be something else at play.

    These days runners routinely run sub-four min. miles. It still takes a runner of exceptional talent to achieve that. I remember Steve Cram ( another Briton), past his best years at the time, ran a sub-four min. mile on the streets of Sydney, a less than ideal surface to run on. Nowadays, it is not unusual to see three or more milers crash through the four minute barrier in the same race.

    It is not valid to compare Bannister's achievement to what a top runner can do in the modern era. Purely on time posted, not only would the Moroccan, the great Hicham El Gerrouj show Bannister a clean pair of heels, he would leave Bannister about 100 metres or more in his wake over a mile.

    Some African runner(s) even managed to string together two four minute miles. That leads us to ask: is there a limit? Back in Bannister's times or earlier, many people doubted the four minute mile could ever be broken. We have come a long way.

    Comment by DL — May 2012

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