Edinburgh Fringe 2015
When Mark doesn’t qualify for the London 2012 Olympic Games, he becomes a guide for blind marathon runner Becky. But he finds it isn’t that easy being someone else’s eyes, or giving up his dreams for hers.
Tether is a powerful story of ambition, trust, friendship and the fight to the finish line from Royal Court Young Writers’ Programme graduate Isley Lynn. It takes us into a world that few, if any, Fringe goers will have any experience of and shows us the drive and determination that top athletes (or those aiming for the top) have.
Lynn spent months of research with athletes including eight-time British Paralympic gold medallist Robert Matthews, five-time British Paralympic gold medallist Noel Thatcher and Australian Paralympian Nick Gleeson, as well as British Blind Sport. The result is a compelling and fast paced script that always drives the story forward. The characters feel authentic in their respective obsessions with pursuing perfection.
Mark (Lee Drage) has failed to qualify for the London 2012 Olympic Games marathon and agrees to take on guiding equally determined, but blind, runner Becky (Maisie Greenwood). It is not an easy journey for either of them. Mark has his own agenda and Becky takes no prisoners – the relationship between them is full of sparks from the beginning. In addition, in the background is Mark’s troubled relationship with his unseen girlfriend Gemma, which contributes to the tension on stage.
Both actors are entirely convincing as ambitious determined runners with Greenwood drawing on her own visual impairment to present the feisty Becky, furious with the hand that life has dealt her; only accepting help with exceedingly bad grace. This is no sob story where the character with a disability is a misunderstood saint and the one without, noble helper. Both are equally infuriating and drive each other mad even as they need each other, for it becomes clear that this is not a one way helper/helped relationship. Thankfully they gradually they find common ground before we tire of their mutual sniping.
The set is simple – a bench to sit on occasionally and weights to counter the actors as they run. And they run. A lot. The result is remarkably convincing as we watch both actors working physically hard throughout the show. It felt as though they really had run a marathon in the course of the hour long play.
Whilst the text and the actors take us convincingly into the world of marathon running the space doesn’t serve the story well. It isn’t a neutral black box but has a definite vibe and is so clearly in the bowels of the earth that it suffocates the characters and their story a little. It feels like a show that wants to be in the open air. I also felt that the sound could contribute a little more. So often Fringe shows are drowned by loud sound – on this occasion I wanted more volume as first Mark and later both of them approach the end of a race – I wanted to feel I was part of that moment when it seems as though it is only the cheering and encouragement of the crowd that is keeping the competitors going.
Overall this is a strong and compelling piece of new writing that illuminates a world few of will have experience of through an intensely intimate and personal story.