Review: The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Runner, adapted by Roy Williams, New Wolsey Theatre, until October 20

The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Runner, by Alan Sillitoe, stage adaption by Roy Williams, New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich, until October 20

Colin Smith (Elliot Barnes-Worrell) is not sure what kind of life he wants but is fairly certain it isn’t the one he’s been dealt.

His father has died and his mother has a new man in her life (Doreene Blackstock and Richard Pepple). He has little opportunity to think things out and drifts into petty crime. Before long he finds himself in a Young Offender’s Institute and, if nothing else, has time to start figuring it all out.

Befriended by social worker Stevens (Dominic Gately) Colin is encouraged to develop his talent for long distance running. But therein lies the rub: when running, Colin discovers mental freedom but soon finds that his athletic abilities are being harnessed by Stevens for the good of the establishment. Stevens enters him in a race with a neighbouring public school.

Roy Williams sets Sillitoe’s 1959 short story in the present day, the 2011 London riots as the backdrop, although Colin assures his dying father that he was not involved. Stevens has a left-wing agenda repeating that he’s not Colin’s enemy but is on his side. But Colin is smart enough to know that Stevens is on his own side, the morality of which Colin wants no part. If he wins, Colin will have betrayed his own honesty and freedom of choice and Stevens will have triumphed.

The play hinges on how the relationship plays out between Stevens and Colin, the latter ‘running’ for around two miles on a treadmill at each performance.

Some of the patois dialogue between Colin and his contemporaries was more audible and comprehensible to young ears than the not-so-young but we got the picture. Barnes-Worrell plays Colin with a raw edge which contrasts well with do-gooder Stevens’ supposed concern. The social dimensions of the piece are multi-layered and are presented well by the entire company.

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Carol Twinch