Pilot Theatre brings The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner forward in time to the aftermath of last year’s riots.
Pilot Theatre brings The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner forward in time to the aftermath of last year’s riots. Its star talks to Laura Davis
ELLIOT BARNES-WORRELL is busy minding his words. He is trying to explain his thoughts about the thousands of rioters who smashed, looted, destroyed and burned their way across London in summer 2011, sparking copycat uprisings in cities including Liverpool.
He is keen not to appear sympathetic, yet can understand how the riots came about.
“But saying you understand the riots is like saying you understand the meaning of life,” he says, partially retracting his earlier statement.
“In our modern age we are victims of violent media messages telling us what we need to buy to be socially acceptable.
“Especially in deprived areas, what is seen as what you need to be cool – the right trainers, the right jacket – is all priced out of their range. Then it’s all put behind glass. It’s no wonder that eventually that glass will get smashed. I thought it was inevitable.”
The subject is relevant, not just because at 21 Barnes-Worrell can clearly remember the pressures on young people to have the latest piece of kit, but because his character in Pilot Theatre’s new production of The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner finds himself embroiled in last year‘s London riots.
Bafta winner and Olivier nominee Roy Williams (Clubland, Sucker Punch) has brought Alan Silitoe’s 1962 film, based on his own short story, forward in time.
Barnes-Worrell is Colin Smith, the borstal boy played by Tom Courtenay in the film, who finds himself the prize runner at his youth offenders institution.
Although the period has changed, the social problems the play explores have not, and most of the dialogue is taken straight from the original.
“He’s still a young man who suffers from not being able to make a choice in his life because of political failure and because of the brutal nature of his secondary socialisation and his working class background,” says Barnes-Worrell.
“Colin knows there is a fight in his life but he doesn’t exactly know how to fight it. He doesn’t have one specific thing to be angry at, there are so many contributing factors to why he feels so vulnerable that he can’t pin it down, so he runs.”
The actor also runs – around 4km per show as he spends some two-thirds of the play on an eight metre treadmill. The story of how he has found himself getting to this point in his life is told through a series of fragmented flashbacks.
“Running and talking at the same time – very interesting,” he says wryly.
“I trained very hard for the role – running and doing press ups, sit-ups, squats and dips. All own body weight stuff as I didn’t want to pack on any unnecessary muscle. But I stopped needing to do that much because I’m doing long runs seven or eight shows a week and that’s kept me fit for the role.”
This is Barnes-Worrell’s second professional role since leaving the Central School of Speech and Drama just a few months ago – yet is also his second as a runner. He recently played an athlete in a short Doctor Who spin-off, filmed to celebrate the 2012 Games. Holding the Olympic torch, he runs through the Tardis door, pursued by a Weeping Angel (an evil living statue for those not au fait with new Who).
“It was really exciting and there were just three of us – me, Matt Smith and Karen Gillan – in the Tardis for 14 hours filming, which was phenomenal.”
THE Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner is at the Liverpool Playhouse from October 30 to November 3.