WhatsOnStage Logo

Five reasons to see ... The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner

WhatsOnStage logo
This brand new stage adaptation by BAFTA-winning playwright Roy Williams (Sucker Punch, Fallout, Sing Yer Heart Out For The Lads) of Alan Sillitoe’s 1959 short story, about a young man’s 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. It’s about an angry young man

Elliot Barnes-Worrell: York Theatre Royal is a beautiful place to be, a little hub of creativity. It’s amazing. I’m still discovering Colin, and will still be finding out new things about him until the very last moment on stage. He’s a young, angry man, but he’s 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 - it’s caused him to behave and react in the way he does and he finds a kind of sanctuary in running, a kind of therapy. I’m fascinated by the balance between Colin’s mask and his vulnerability. It’s been a wonderful challenge. If it wasn’t difficult, I probably wouldn’t enjoy it. I’m constantly wondering when to show that vulnerability and when to conceal it to avoid being hurt. That’s been Colin’s experience, because every time he’s been vulnerable, he’s 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. It’s been a difficult, amazing challenge, and I don’t think I’ll every stop exploring

2. Running features strongly


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 I’m a poet and it was initially a running group for creatives. That’s 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. I’ve enjoyed running round York. It’s a beautiful city, and it’s 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 York’s quite small so I can find my way around. I find that anything physical feeds into the creative process. There’s nothing like physicalizing your text to make it really muscular and I’ve been given these beautiful amazing words by Alan Sillitoe and Roy Williams, an incredible author and an amazing playwright. It’s almost like working out the words, like hitting the gym – the vocabulary gym. It’s 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 I’m arguing with my Mum then it’s back on the treadmill - but once you achieve it, there’s no satisfaction like it in the world.

3. It’s a play for our times


Roy Williams says that he hardly changed Alan Sillitoe’s original story because it’s so well-written. He’s kept the integrity of the book, but brought it into the 21st century and onto the streets of London, giving it a fresh impetus. Roy’s unafraid to bring something from the 1950s into the 21st century because it’s still so relevant. It shows that things haven’t changed much at all. Human instinct stays the same.

4. It reflects the current mood of Olympic optimism


“I think that the Olympics did a lot for our nation. They exposed that kind of reality TV world, because you don’t 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 that’s hard work and dedication. It’s like people have thought, yes: work hard, you achieve. There’s no other way to improve so there’s nothing like watching Mo Farrow cross that finish line, knowing the training he’s 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 didn’t see the Olympians as unreachable. I didn’t feel alienated by their spectacular physiques. I felt like part of them, and they really did inspire definitely me and, from the people I’ve spoken to, our nation to become slightly fitter.

5. It’s a great classic story


I think people will enjoy this production because it’s fearless. It dares to give a satisfactory ending. It will grip you from start to finish and it actually says something. It’s not a Hollywood blockbuster, when you know what’s going to happen and the romance will work out perfectly. That’s not how life works. Life isn’t a perfect garden, 2.5 kids, 2.5 cars, 9-5 jobs, and everyone’s blissfully happy. That isn’t how the world works. This play exposes that and shows you a new direction, a new lease of life, that hasn’t been shown honestly, in my opinion, on the stage before, so it’s a real piece of art and I think that’s 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.


Tagged in this Story