Nic Sampson: Marathon, 1904 | Edinburgh Fringe comedy review
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Nic Sampson: Marathon, 1904

Edinburgh Fringe comedy review

It was a race of such cruelty, carnage and chaos that it nearly spelled the end of the marathon as an Olympic sport forever.

If you know nothing of the event at the 1904 Games in St Louis, Missouri, don’t google it before going to see Nic Sampson’s witty and compelling retelling of the unbelievable Shambles so as to feel the full impact of every incredible twist as he reveals it.

For the same reason, I won’t go into details of the bizarre story here, tempting though it is. Just know that of 32 people who began the race – ‘athletes’ would be too generous a word for the motley crew, including a Cuban postman who hadn’t officially entered – just 14 finished. Dust, 33C heat and a lack of water were just a few of the factors that did for the rest. Other reasons were more peculiar still.

Certainly it’s a gift of a story, with the actual gasp-inducing facts being enough to make the show so captivating, with hazard heaped upon stupid hazard like a cartoon farce. But Sampson makes a significant contribution in bringing it to life: acting out the characters, directing a gentle bit of audience participation, adding some theatrical flourishes and providing an Izzardesque preamble about the history of the race.

The personable New Zealander tells the story from the perspective of Thomas Hicks, the son of a brass worker from Birmingham – which is quite a nice link at this time of the Commonwealth Games. But the story has as many larger-than-life characters as it does jaw-dropping twists of fate, from Fred Lorz – portrayed as a New York wiseguy using all the slang of the era – to Alice Roosevelt, the unhinged socialite daughter of President Theodore Roosevelt.

The story of this real-life wacky race just has to be heard to believed, and Sampson and is a thoroughly winning guide –although, as he’s quick to point out, he’s no historian.

Nic Sampson: Marathon, 1904 is on at the Pleasance Courtyard at 4:40pm

Review date: 8 Aug 2022
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Pleasance Courtyard

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