The Long Run – New Diorama, London

Reviewer: Jane Darcy

Writer: Katie Arnstein

Director: Bec Martin

Writer and performer Katie Arnstein draws on direct experience in this good-natured, often very funny, short play about the effects of a diagnosis of cancer on family and friends. Arnstein is a natural stand-up, bubbling with wit and awful puns as she introduces us to her play. Is it possible to write a comedy about the Big C, she asks rhetorically, then with a giggle, ‘Yes, I can, sir!’

It is her adored mother Jane’s unexpected diagnosis of bowel cancer which unsurprisingly unbalances Arnstein’s world. She finds herself back at her Derbyshire home, sharing driving duties with her father as Jane undergoes chemo and radiotherapy. The father doesn’t get much of a look-in. We just know him as the maker of consolatory post-treatment sandwiches. But Arnstein’s observations of hospital waiting rooms and corridors are gleefully sharp. She is thrilled to discover the last vending machine that still stocks Tizer. Over time, as she notices other carers, she begins to offer comic sketches of them. There are very entertaining scenes set in a Bowel Cancer Coffee Support Group and a lovely exchange of emails when her mother tries to recommend her daughter to a London agent.

There’s an effective change of tone when Arnstein realises her relentless peppy tone is beginning to wear on her suffering mother and someone wisely upbraids her for the use of metaphors of fighting disease. There follows plenty of nice self-mockery when she finds herself using her mother’s condition as an excuse – in a droll scene in the hospital Costa, she makes fun of her own self-importance, trying to queue jump with: ‘I need my oat milk flat white quickly because my mother’s got cancer!’

The other part of the show is about an older man, George, whom Katie befriends in hospital. George is running the London marathon in memory of his dead husband. We’ve known this from the start, as there is a jolly marathon-themed atmosphere when you enter the theatre (part of Bec Martin’s light-touch direction) so there are few surprises. We’ve also been told that her mother survives and is indeed sitting alive and well in the audience. The recreation of the marathon is done well but it’s here that the momentum tends to get lost and sentimentality overtakes wise-cracking.

Runs until 13 April 2024

The Reviews Hub Score

Good-natured and funny

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The Reviews Hub - London

The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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