Push both the body and mind to the extreme, to the point of complete capitulation. This is the mentality that Lauren Hendry drills into the herself and the audience in “Tetra-Decathlon,” the new one-woman play making its St Andrews debut.
The show chronicles the real-life struggles that Hendry endured as she trained for and competed in a Tetra-Decathlon, a grueling fourteen-event marathon of athletic prowess. Here is a woman completely unqualified in every way, attempting to challenge some of the best female runners in the world in the Rushmore of endurance sports. Hendry takes us through the high and lows of her outrageous journey, from the first training session to her improbable triumph at the Tetra-Decathlon World Championships.
Produced at the Byre Theatre, the play is quite an intimate affair. The set, while sparse, is used to great effect, with portable lockers doubling as random characters. The music is uptempo with a driving beat, to propel the action of the story. As the show only runs for an hour, there is very little time wasted shifting sets or changing costumes. Additionally, the large central clock counting down the days before the big finale gave an urgency to the night’s proceedings. Interestingly, Hendry is accompanied by a sign-language interpreter, making the show more accessible to a wider audience. This coincides with the general theme of show, that “anyone” can achieve their goals, not just those with a particularly advantageous genetic make-up.
Hendry has a particular watchability factor, a basic requirement for any solo performance. She adeptly balances a peppy, earnest demeanor with several more serious, heartfelt monologues. In addition, she embodies multiple other characters through broad caricatures, the most prominent of which is her Fitness Coach. Her impersonation of the figure is an intense, rough-around-the-edges male who is skeptical of Hendry’s ability. He acts as the voice of the general public, or more specifically, the audience, as he questions Hendry at every turn, yet also supports her attempt at the impossible.
The dialogue overall flows very smoothly, even when Hendry switches between characters or utilises sports-related terminology. While Hendry does fully commit to every moment, some of the jokes do not entirely land, leaving a couple of awkward silences. It is also evident watching Hendry that, as a result of her months of training and commitment, she moves like an “elite” athlete. Some of her strongest work on stage comes when she enacts different feats of physical fitness. Her lithe and agile movements really add some authenticity to the story. The most emotionally resonant scenes are the races, where Hendry uses her heartbeat as a tonal barometer, at various times speeding up and slowing down when she is nervous, calm, or utterly exhausted.
For the narrative to have any real weight, the audience must not only like the protagonist, but relate to her as well. Hendry does an excellent job of displaying her struggle and suffering, showing the she is in the same boat as everyone watching. Even as she succeeds at the end, she still retains her humanity and sincere approach to life. This is of paramount importance, as the typical audience member cannot connect with the top competitors. This sentiment holds especially true at this particular performance, as the vast majority of the audience were elderly couples.
In the end, the story remains a fantastic examination of what we as humans are capable of. Throughout, Hendry’s inner monologues ring true as she toils away at a seemingly unachievable goal. Hendry’s passion for the subject matter, along with her winning attitude, makes this quite an enjoyable night of theatre for all ages and backgrounds.