Comedy, celebrities and gate-crashers: Eddie Izzard’s marathon month at Riverside Studios

Hammersmith’s Riverside Studios has hosted some amazing virtual guests in recent weeks – all cheering on Eddie Izzard as she completed her project to run 31 marathons in 31 days in January, followed by 31 charity stand-up gigs. (Eddie now identifies by the pronouns she/her).

Dame Judi Dench, Ewan Macgregor, Michael Palin and Russell Brand were just some of the British stars who joined Eddie by video link during her daily runs on a treadmill at the Riverside. Other British celebrities beaming in to chat included Stephen Fry, Bill Bailey, Joanna Lumley, Dawn French and Lenny Henry, with American stars like Stanley Tucci and the West Wing’s Richard Schiff also adding their support.

When Eddie decided to add a 32nd marathon on the final day, Hollywood superstar George Clooney zoomed in by video to help urge her over the line.

To describe it as a punishing schedule is a massive understatement. What with the marathon running, recovery time and the stand-up gigs, Eddie was spending at least ten hours a day at the Studios.

According to the Riverside’s Executive Director, Tony Lankester: “Eddie arrived each day around 10:30am, prepared for the start of the marathon, ran the marathon, did the show, had dinner that our in-house chefs prepared, and then left each night somewhere around 8.30 -9pm. The exception was the last day where she did two marathons – with a much earlier start and a midnight finish!”

In fact, Eddie even posted some midnight stills of Hammersmith Bridge on her Twitter feed as she wearily left the building for the last time on Monday.

So why did she decide to do the last-minute extra marathon, after such a gruelling schedule? “I think just because she could!” says Tony.

I attended Eddie’s online stand up show following her marathon on Sunday 24 January. More than three weeks in, the project was clearly taking its toll. Eddie apologised for being tired – she’d been suffering from stomach problems all day, but had still completed her marathon. Telling physical gags was clearly difficult; she rose from her stool gingerly, walked stiffly around the stage. She still managed to deliver the kind of whimsical, hilarious set that only Eddie Izzard can. However, she seemed slightly rattled by the fact that a couple of gate-crashers had tried to get into the room when she was running earlier in the day. The room faced the Thames Path, and the door had apparently been left open to let some air in.

Executive Director of the Riverside Studios Tony Lankester stresses that it was a one-off incident, as far as security was concerned; “That was the only incident the whole month – which is pretty remarkable given the scale of the event and Eddie’s public profile“ he says. “The biggest concern was how the interlopers may have affected Eddie’s Covid-safe bubble rather than anything related to personal security concerns. But we were all ultra-cautious around Covid issues and a huge amount of detailed planning went into making sure all was safe throughout, and so we were able to bounce back pretty quickly.”

Eddie’s marathon effort has raised more than £280,000 for her A Run for Hope: Make Humanity Great Again charity project, which Izzard says will ‘promote a fair chance in life for all, particularly those who experience disadvantage and discrimination.’

So what does the Riverside get out of it? “We were very proud to host this project – Eddie’s enthusiasm and passion was infectious and it was great that we were able to play a role,” says Tony.
“Apart from recouping some of our costs, we didn’t set out to make any profit from it. The publicity was good for us but, more important in many respects, was the opportunity the project gave us to have our team work on a great, real-life, worthwhile project. In our industry at the moment there is so little going on, it felt good just to have a “show” to go to every day.”

It certainly put the Riverside in the international spotlight, with people from 63 countries watching the evening livestream shows. Many more joined the daytime livestream audience to watch the marathons with their celebrity video guests.

With the marathons now over, it’s back to the new normal for the Riverside and its staff. The theatre remains closed to the public. Its next big project, a much-anticipated production of Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days, directed by Trevor Nunn, is now scheduled for June. The Riverside continues to offer its facilities for TV and online streaming productions, which, Tony notes, “is about the only work that is currently permitted in our industry.”

Meanwhile it is continuing online offerings for the local community, including a film club, yoga classes and an online wellbeing workshop. For details see riversidestudios.co.uk

As for Eddie, she’s currently hopefully enjoying a well-earned rest. But it’s still not too late to donate. See crowdfunder.co.uk/eddie for details – and to treat yourself to videos of Eddie’s many conversations with her celebrity guests!

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