Note: This review is from the 2022 Fringe

If you’ve read the premise of Nic Sampson’s show Marathon, 1904 do yourself a massive favour and don’t Google what happened during the real life event before the show. The Fringe blurb tells us that 32 athletes entered the 1904 Olympic marathon in St Louis, Missouri and only fourteen finished. That’s all the information you need. Because the way the event unfolded amid a catalogue of disasters has to be heard to be believed. And Sampson has crafted an hour of comedic storytelling and acting that is so sublime that you’ll want to stop strangers in the Pleasance Courtyard to tell them to book a ticket for the next performance. 

Sampson tells the story from the perspective of Thomas Hicks, a long distance runner from Birmingham, who dreams of taking home the gold medal. But the other characters the stand-up brings to life, including Cuban postman Félix Carvajal who wasn’t even entered into the race and cocky New Yorker Fred Lorz are a joy to witness. The source material is great, with the kind of twists that most screenwriters could barely dream of creating but this isn’t an hour of someone reading a Wikipedia page aloud and showing some slides. Sampson brings the participant’s story to life, inhabiting the runner’s pain and glory with a dynamic (and at times physical) performance. Some of the audience get to take part in the action, one even managing to steal some punchlines for themselves. 

It’s a rare performance. A show about a bizarre historical event that barely anyone has heard of that is absolutely captivating from start to finish. Expect such weird appearances as cameos from a President’s daughter and her pet snake, and execution so funny the audience were struggling to contain themselves. In the wrong hands this could have been as disastrous as that marathon. But Sampson has made a memorable show with a performance that’s almost as impressive as the gold medal winner himself.