Five reasons to see ... The Loneliness of the Long Distance RunnerDate: 25 September 2012 This brand new stage adaptation by BAFTA-winning playwright Roy Williams (Sucker Punch, Fallout, Sing Yer Heart Out For The Lads) of Alan Sillitoeís 1959 short story, about a young manís sense of alienation from his society, is a co-production by Pilot Theatre and York Theatre Royal, directed by Marcus Romer. I asked Elliot Barnes-Worrell, making his professional stage debut as Colin Smith, a 17 year-old Borstal boy with a passion for running, why he feels that people should come and see this production.
1. Itís about an angry young man
Elliot Barnes-Worrell: York Theatre Royal is a beautiful place to be, a little hub of creativity. Itís amazing. Iím still discovering Colin, and will still be finding out new things about him until the very last moment on stage. Heís a young, angry man, but heís petrified, of everything and everyone. Society has failed him and he has many people to blame. The way the police treat him, the way his parents treat him, the way his secondary socialisation has been so brutal - itís caused him to behave and react in the way he does and he finds a kind of sanctuary in running, a kind of therapy. Iím fascinated by the balance between Colinís mask and his vulnerability. Itís been a wonderful challenge. If it wasnít difficult, I probably wouldnít enjoy it. Iím constantly wondering when to show that vulnerability and when to conceal it to avoid being hurt. Thatís been Colinís experience, because every time heís been vulnerable, heís been hurt, like when his father died. Finding that balance, that reality, you have to work from inside out, to find the vulnerability. You find the young boy in the man and then put on armour to protect him. Itís been a difficult, amazing challenge, and I donít think Iíll every stop exploring
2. Running features strongly
EBW: I am a runner myself. I was a sprinter originally, then, got involved in a running club called Run Dem Crew, who run about 10K (six miles) every Tuesday evening on the streets of London. I got into it because Iím a poet and it was initially a running group for creatives. Thatís what sparked my interest in long-distance running. When I first heard about the role of Colin, I thought it was perfect. To prepare, I run alone about four times a week, and I run about two miles every performance on a specially constructed 6 metre long treadmill. I run pretty much every day and make sure I definitely do four 10Ks a week. Iíve enjoyed running round York. Itís a beautiful city, and itís an amazing experience running along the riverbank and round the old walls. Running somewhere new is nice and I keep getting lost a lot but Yorkís quite small so I can find my way around. I find that anything physical feeds into the creative process. Thereís nothing like physicalizing your text to make it really muscular and Iíve been given these beautiful amazing words by Alan Sillitoe and Roy Williams, an incredible author and an amazing playwright. Itís almost like working out the words, like hitting the gym Ė the vocabulary gym. Itís fantastic, while running, to reel off these beautifully written, elegant monologues but with the kind of colloquial street language that you hear in London. The massive key changes in the text are so difficult to manoeuvre - one minute Iím arguing with my Mum then itís back on the treadmill - but once you achieve it, thereís no satisfaction like it in the world.
3. Itís a play for our times
EBW: Roy Williams says that he hardly changed Alan Sillitoeís original story because itís so well-written. Heís kept the integrity of the book, but brought it into the 21st century and onto the streets of London, giving it a fresh impetus. Royís unafraid to bring something from the 1950s into the 21st century because itís still so relevant. It shows that things havenít changed much at all. Human instinct stays the same.
4. It reflects the current mood of Olympic optimism
EBW: ďI think that the Olympics did a lot for our nation. They exposed that kind of reality TV world, because you donít win gold medals for being on Big Brother or being Kim Kardashian. These guys train hard every day of their lives. Some of the gymnasts are still at school and you can see these incredible things they can do with their body and thatís hard work and dedication. Itís like people have thought, yes: work hard, you achieve. Thereís no other way to improve so thereís nothing like watching Mo Farrow cross that finish line, knowing the training heís done, to make you want to run as well. If he can do it, you can do it and it is open like that. I didnít see the Olympians as unreachable. I didnít feel alienated by their spectacular physiques. I felt like part of them, and they really did inspire definitely me and, from the people Iíve spoken to, our nation to become slightly fitter.
5. Itís a great classic story
EBW:I think people will enjoy this production because itís fearless. It dares to give a satisfactory ending. It will grip you from start to finish and it actually says something. Itís not a Hollywood blockbuster, when you know whatís going to happen and the romance will work out perfectly. Thatís not how life works. Life isnít a perfect garden, 2.5 kids, 2.5 cars, 9-5 jobs, and everyoneís blissfully happy. That isnít how the world works. This play exposes that and shows you a new direction, a new lease of life, that hasnít been shown honestly, in my opinion, on the stage before, so itís a real piece of art and I think thatís why people should come and see it.
The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner runs at the York Theatre Royal until 29 September and then tours nationally.
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