Review: The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner at Nottingham Playhouse

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ANYONE who has enjoyed running, whether competitively or for the sheer thrill of it, will no doubt feel an affinity with Colin Smith, the rebellious anti-hero of Alan Sillitoe’s classic novella The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner.

In the book, published in 1959, he describes the sense of freedom you get from running alone, especially early in the morning when the world is not yet awake.

This idea is brought right up to date in a stage adaptation of the play, which opened at Nottingham Playhouse last night.

Incarcerated in a young offenders’ institute, rather than Borstal, Colin finds that he enjoys running for the joy of it.

His talent, honed by running away from the police, is soon identified by the prison officials – and he is put forward for a cross country race against boys from a public school which he is tipped to win.

In return, he is given special privileges and the chance to build a life for himself beyond petty crime.

For those of you who have not read the book, I won’t give away the ending, but it’s sufficient to say there is no neat ending to his story.

Setting the play in the modern era underlined the relevance of many of the themes of Sillitoe’s text and certainly seemed to strike a chord with the younger members of the audience.

All this was underpinned by the superb acting of all the cast members, particularly Colin (played by Elliot Barnes-Worrell) who created a wonderful sense of energy by delivering his lines while running on a treadmill.

He also captured the humour, anger, frustration and sadness of his life, along with the thrill he gets from running.

Meanwhile, the set design was unlike any I had seen before. The scenes – whether it be Colin’s home, the dismal streets where he lives or the prison – were projected onto 3D backdrop. This meant each scene changed seamlessly and mirrored the thoughts going through Colin’s head as he ran.

The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner has been adapted for the stage by BAFTA winning and Olivier Award nominated playwright Roy Williams and it is produced by Pilot Theatre in association with York Theatre Royal.

Tickets are priced between £10 and £17.50 and the play runs until Saturday.

For details visit www.nottinghamplayhouse.co.uk or call 0115 941 9419. You can also join the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #LDR2012.