Ventoux is a candid documentation of rivalry as both a fuel and a poison.
Mont Ventoux is the most fearsome leg of the Tour de France and in 2000 it was the site of a historic race between Armstrong and Pantani. 2Magpies recreate the race by replaying genuine commentary and playing video footage of the uphill route.
Sometimes these videos go on for a little too long. Since the makers themselves struggled up the extremely steep mountain to capture the footage, they are (perhaps understandably) attached to it. However, as we learn more about the two sportsmen, their desire to succeed becomes so tangible that the video interludes become tense.
2Magpies use their Summerhall venue well. It’s a stark debating room with curved seating at a sheer gradient which befits a tale of gruelling uphill struggle. Props consist of two bikes and some cooling boxes, all used imaginatively although sometimes causing clumsy transitions.
Subjects ranging from cancer to cocaine and suicide are dealt with in the dry manner of a documentary voice over. There’s no need for florid language or melodrama when the story is bound up in the sublime power of the natural world. “At the top of Ventoux,” Andy Routledge’s Armstrong tells us, “you can’t breathe.” Delivery is crisp, clear and serious – the perfect handling of verbatim material.
Routledge gets Armstrong’s “killer mentality” just right, and Tom Barnes gives a sensitive portrayal of Pantani’s hot-headed but fragile character. Both actors work well together to portray a complex, competitive relationship. At its most innocuous, the relationship is petulant. At its worst, it is mutually destructive in an irreparable way.
The show also portrays what it’s like to be at the capricious hands of the media. One memorable sequence holds up a self-aggrandising Armstrong promoting his Livestrong campaign against a self-pitying Pantani admitting defeat.
Eventually both sportsmen spiral out of control and fall prey to the “witch hunt” that is the media. Ventoux is a candid documentation of rivalry as both a fuel and a poison.