We chat to Pilot Theatre's Artistic Director MARCUS ROMER about the World Premiere of THE LONELINESS OF THE LONG DISTANCE RUNNER


Over half a century ago Alan Sillitoe’s short story, The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, and its subsequent film adaptation ruffled a few feathers in the establishment as it turned the spotlight on disenfranchised youth and gave a voice to a part of society that had previously been barely heard.

Now Pilot Theatre, with York Theatre Royal, bring a World premiere of a new adaptation to the stage – starting life in the North Yorkshire city in which they are based before embarking on a tour.

The adaptation has been penned by Roy Williams OBE, patron of Pilot Theatre, and continues his interest in sporting related drama with previous work including Sing Yer Heart Out For The Lads (Football), Sucker Punch (Boxing) and the film Fast Girls (Relay).

Serving his punishment for petty theft, Colin finds solace in long distance running which offers him time and space to consider his past, future and who he really is. As his sporting talent comes to the attention of the powers-that-be, he finds himself a reluctant political pawn, entered in to a race to represent the success of local and national government policy.

In the performance, which will last around 85 minutes with no interval, everything takes place in the time of the race – with action centring around a specially built 6 meter treadmill on which actor Elliot Barnes-Worrell will run on for the majority of the show (fortunately he is already supremely fit, running 10km 3 times a week).

Marcus Romer (centre) at rehearsals
But surely in the intervening year since the Sillitoe short story, things have changed, with modern communication channels and 24 hours news meaning that now everyone has a voice. Pilot Theatre’s Artistic Director, Marcus Romer begs to differ:

“Of course it’s still relevant today – it’s how we look at young peoples’ lives. Take a look, there are still are still young people inside prison and young offenders units. And there are still people who only get their news from the Daily Mail and believe that all young people are robbers or are all rioters though obviously that’s not the case”
If any evidence was needed then a glance back to last year’s London riots provide a modern context and it is no coincidence that Romer has chosen now to visit this story which has been moved to take place following the devastating scenes in the capital.

“I’m not condoning the riots but that was disaffected young people taking things back after the bankers had taken even more. What was the bigger injustice?” asks Romer.

But of course London itself has moved on, dusted itself down and provided us with positive young role models in the shape of the Olympians and Paralympians – an obvious parallel to the journey Colin takes and something Romer is keen to celebrate: “The Olympics have been inspiring. The whole country got behind positive role models achieving great things. Mo Farah is a fantastic role model.”

Whilst the theme and message may still be relevant, how will the text work for today’s theatre audience?

“It’s still very fresh – very few things have had to change, just a few tweaks so the audiences are not looking down a telescope at the 1950s. Colin is now pronounced Co-lin (as in former American Secretary of State, Colin Powell). “

“The main challenge has been how to make the flashbacks work and relevant for audiences as all of the action plays out in Colin’s head – they are his thoughts as they come in to his mind as images and textures.”

“The great thing about it though is that every single one of the characters is flawed – they are human. They make mistakes and errors of judgement.”

One big difference to what may have been envisaged back in the late 1950s may be the cast themselves as Romer explains: “The 10 actors are a diverse, multi-cultural group representative of the UK in the 21st century all with different backgrounds and cultural heritage.”

The cast themselves are clearly positive young role models in a modern Great Britain.

Whilst Marcus promises that The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner will have audiences examining their own thoughts and political viewpoint, as it has done his, he reassures audiences wanting a thought provoking and enjoyable night of theatre saying “It’s very funny – it’s got gags in it”.

One way or another, The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner is a production that is destined to run and run!

York Theatre Royal, 14 - 29 September, and then on tour

Interview and feature by James Eaglesfield

Listings Info

Elliot Barnes-Worrell as Colin Smith
Doreene Blackstock as Mum
Curtis Cole as Luke/Policeman
Dominic Gately as Stevens
Savannah Gordon-Liburd as Kenisha
Luke James as Gunthorpe
Jack McMullen as Jase
Alix Ross as Sandra/Guard
Sean Sagar as Asher/Policeman/Guard
Richard Pepple as Dad/Policeman/Trevor

Creative Team
Produced by Pilot Theatre and York Theatre Royal
Written by Alan Sillitoe
Adapted for the Stage by Roy Williams
Directed by Marcus Romer
Designed by Lydia Denno

Lighting Designed by Mark Beasley
Soundscape by Sandy Nuttgens
Staff Director - Tom Bellerby

Tour Dates
York Theatre Royal 14 - 29 Sep 2012 
Birmingham Rep 2 - 6 Oct
Gala Theatre, Durham 9 - 13 Oct 
New Wolsey, Ipswich 16 - 20 Oct 
Nottingham Playhouse 23 - 27 Oct 
Liverpool Playhouse 30 Oct - 3 Nov 
The Brewhouse, Taunton 7 - 10 Nov 
Winchester Theatre Royal 13 - 17 Nov 
Lawrence Batley, Huddersfield 21 - 24 Nov