Armstrong and Litvinenko inspire Fringe shows

The Litvinenko Project contrasts 'the relaxing nature of having a cup of tea with the violence of nuclear poisoning'. Picture: Contributed
The Litvinenko Project contrasts 'the relaxing nature of having a cup of tea with the violence of nuclear poisoning'. Picture: Contributed
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The rise and fall of shamed ­cyclist Lance Armstrong and the murder of former Russian agent Alexander Litvinenko are to ­inspire plays at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

The two shows, which have been revealed ahead of tomorrow’s official launch of the Fringe, will be part of Summer-
hall’s programme this summer as the venue marks its fifth year at the festival.

This is not just for cycling fans, there’s a real human element

Tom Barnes

The Litvinenko Project, which will be staged in the main cafe at Summerhall – the former Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies – will relive the day the former spy was poisoned after drinking tea laced with radioactive polonium.

Ventoux, which will feature two performers cycling and acting, will relive the rivalry between the American cyclist and Italian Marco Pantani at the Tour de France in 2000 and explore the subsequent downfall of both cycling heroes to drugs scandals.

Shows about the HIV/Aids epidemic in South Africa, a deadly terrorist attack in 1970s Iran which claimed more than 400 lives and the tug-of-love over Molly Campbell, the Scottish schoolgirl taken to Pakistan by her father against the wishes of her mother, will also be part of Summerhall’s line-up.

A one-woman musical cabaret version of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and a Scottish performance artist’s tribute to her late brother’s devotion to 1960s pop icon Dusty Springfield will also be staged.

The Litvinenko Project and Ventoux are being performed by the Nottinghamshire theatre company 2Magpies, which was formed five years ago by Tom Barnes and Matt Wilks to create new-site specific theatre works drawn from true-life stories.

Barnes, who is performing in both shows, said the Litvinenko play had been developed to look at why an investigation had not been ordered into the former KGB officer’s death – only to find their script overtaken by events.

An inquiry, ordered by Home Secretary Theresa May, began in February into the death of the Russian dissident, who died in hospital in 2006 after drinking tea with two Russian men in a London hotel.

Mr Barnes said: “The Litvinenko Project takes the theatrical form of a tea party, in a way because of the way his poisoning was administered.

“It looks at the juxtaposition of the relaxing nature of having a cup of tea, crossed with the violence of nuclear poisoning, as well as the different theories about why [Litvinenko] was killed. When we started to get interested in his story we couldn’t understand why his case had gone unresolved.

“His widow, Marina, was campaigning for justice at the time and it seemed to us there was real humanity in the story, crossed with the international ramifications it had. It would have been dismissed as unbelievable if we had made it up.”

Ventoux will relive the famous Tour de France duel in 2000 between Armstrong, who was later stripped of his seven titles, and Pantani, who died of a cocaine overdose four years later.

Barnes added: “We’re doing the show in an old demonstration room at Summerhall. It’s all about physiology and the effect of drugs on the body, so it’ll be a wonderful setting for it.

“It will look at the completely contrasting lives of Armstrong and Pantani, which came together at the Tour de France, flashing back and forwards in time. It’s not just for cycling fans, there’s a really human element in there.”