Home / Drama / The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner – The Playhouse Theatre, Liverpool

The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner – The Playhouse Theatre, Liverpool

Writer: Alan Sillitoe

Adaptor: Roy Williams

Director: Marcus Romer

Reviewer: Jamie Gaskin


Loneliness is generally regarded as a curse – but for one person it is his one chance to be free.He is the eponymous long distance runner from Alan Sillitoe’s celebrated novel filmed in the early 60s with Tom Courtney as Colin Smith.Here playwright Roy Williams brings the story bang up to date, setting it at the time of last year’s riots and making his anti-hero black.

Elliott Barnes-Worrell gives a very physical performance: Rarely still in this 80-minute straight-through production. Yet his delivery is not impaired by the exertions – a harder trick than it looks. Throughout he maintained a compelling presence without overacting.But is Colin running towards new goals or just trying to distance himself from his pathetic past?

The tormented memories of watching his father (Richard Pepple) suffer a painful death neglected by his wayward mother (Doreene Blackstock) who is so quick to find a new boyfriend and even quicker to squander their modest inheritance.Pepple’s sensitive portrayal underscores the delicious upbeat callousness exuded by the flouncing Blackstock.

Or are Colin’s early morning runs as much a way of blowing away the cynical set-up he is sucked into at The Young offenders Institute.As a favoured inmate he is mocked and tormented by his fellows and suffers a creepy condescension from do-gooder Stevens (Dominic Gately). A wonderful display of how to be patronising.There’s more than a hint of mischievous irony when an uncharacteristic outburst from Stevens reveals that he is using Colin as a weapon in his own class war.

It was amusing to see that the path of romance and chat-up techniques was as difficult yet tender anyone could recall. Kenisha (Savannah Gordon-Liburd) coping well with the embarrassed difficulties of the man she fancies.

Williams has crafted a middle-distance rather than full-length play creating fireworks but always balancing with a more reflective mood.But it works well on the stage because it is very much a director’s play.Marcus Romer and the set designer Lydia Denno were highly successful in filling the majesty of the barn-like stage of the Playhouse without compromising on the intimacy and very personal nature of Colin’s fears and how he succeeds. The overwhelming size of the set compared with Colin is almost a metaphor for the task he faces in the narrative.

All in all, The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner is a touring play which will certainly go the distance.

Photo: Karl Andre Photography

Runs until 3rd November.

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