Looking set for the distance

The Loneliness of The Long Distance Runner 

Birmingham Repertory Company 

The Old Rep, Birmingham  

**** 

As the country bathes in it's summer of  Olympic triumph, Pilot Theatre Company are clearly hoping to tap into the public's appetite for all things athletic. 

With Chariots of Fire doing the business in the West End and now this play embarking on a national tour, there are clearly opportunities being taken . . . .and why not? 

Roy Williams adaptation of Alan Sillitoe's 1959 novel of the same title, is loyal to the original themes whilst bringing it bang up to date to David Cameron's riot torn Britain of 2011.

The central character, Colin Smith ( Elliot Barnes - Worrell), rages against a society that offers him few chances. Running provides a release for him, an escape from the dog eat dog lifestyle on the streets.

Sent down to a Young Offender's Prison, Colin keeps on running, giving him a focus and a means of blocking out the inevitable stresses of institutional life. His governor sees his potential and is keen to encourage him. A supportive gesture? A genuine attempt to help? It would be nice to think so. 

Central themes in this play are clear. Class divides, youth disenchantment, life choices, rebellion . . . these are all here in abundance. Anger prevails too, but interestingly the point is made that whilst riots in the 1980s were genuinely fueled by real anger and frustration , those in 2011 were more about materialistic greed. 

POLITICAL CHANGE

A desire for expensive trainers and 42 inch televisions seemed to replace a call for political change. In effect, the rioters had turned into the capitalists they once railed against.  

Part of Designer, Lydia Denno's challenge here is to find an effective way of letting Colin actually run on stage. A huge feature of Tony Richardson's 1963 film were the stark, wide open scenes of Colin running through bleak landscapes.

Not an easy re- creation for a theatre space. Denno's solution is simple but extremely effective. A travelator, similar to those found in airports, runs down the centre of the stage whilst projections to the back and side portray a variety of locations. Barnes - Worrell displays impressive physical fitness as he delivers speech after speech whilst running at some pace. 

Performances all round are solid. Dominic Gately hits just the right balance as the prison governor, Stevens, trying to put Colin exactly where he wants him. Doreene Blackstock offers tough love as Colin's mum while Richard Pepple draws two characters beautifully as the dad and mum's new lover, Trevor. Curtis Cole menaces well as Luke and Jack McMullen is perhaps the most streetwise as Jase. Savannah Gordon - Liburd  plays hard to get with conviction - showing a gentler side to her initial tough exterior. Luke James, Alix Ross and Sean Sagar complete a fine cast. 

Looking around the rather impressive Old Rep theatre , there was an encouraging mix of ages in the audience. That can only be a positive thing. Plays need to be good to bring people out on a wet Tuesday night - an especially difficult task for brand new plays such as this one. It's made a great start though...let's hope it makes the distance. A York Theatre Royal / Pilot Theatre production, to 06-10-12

Tom Roberts 

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