The ‘angry young man’ that rampaged against authority through the pages of 1950s literature, attempting to slash through political injustice paragraph by paragraph, seems to be a figure that never actually grew up. For in 2011 that very same young man appeared to crop up from the woodwork in a very real-life, angrier form as rioters took to the streets, ostensibly in opposition to the warped system of Britain and the deprivation it afforded to the poorest of our society.
Now, a new theatrical production by York’s Pilot Theatre is to fuse together this frustrated figure of the past, present and potential future as they present BAFTA winning playwright, Roy Williams’, up-to-the-minute adaptation of one of the definitive 1950s anarchist texts: Alan Sillitoe’s The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner.
Tracking the thoughts of a young rebel incensed with the alienating world around him as he runs a long-distance race, The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner puts a magnifying glass on Colin Smith, the ‘angry young man’ of a post-Olympics setting, played here by Elliot Barnes-Worrell.
Still exploring his character in the early stages of rehearsals, Elliot already senses the very knowable anger of Colin that resonates strongly with himself: “I think for me, it’s knowing there is a fight but not knowing exactly how to fight it. And there are so many conflicts inside of Colin. And he’s young and when you’re young, you’re really passionately angry about why, for example, you’re not allowed to vote for Green. Like when I found out that voting for the Green Party was like pissing in the wind, I was like, so, I’ve waited 18 years to vote and now I’ve got to choose between this guy and this guy, neither of which I like but I have to decide. And that frustrated me.”
Upset and angered to see the “neglect” surrounding him in his home town of Peckham, Elliot is also keen to point out the inescapable cycle of misconceptions that can quickly arise in his situation: “You can see that people expect that I’m a rude boy who rioted from London. Well I’m none of those things apart from a boy in London but that expectation can’t change. And so I feel that frustration that Colin feels which is almost political failure and not knowing where to go.”
Yet, like his character Colin, who finds an escape from his confusion through running, Elliot has also found a successful outlet through which to channel his frustration: “I was lucky because I found a passion in acting, poetry and running. And these are three things that I can say ‘these are mine’”.
Having just graduated last month from Central School of Drama and Speech, Elliot is hugely excited by the fact that this, his first professional role, blends together his two main passions: poetry and running. Regularly teaching Shakespeare to ‘hard to reach’ kids in London colleges, Elliot says that it was in many ways the “incredible words” and poetry of Roy Williams’ The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner that drew him to the part. The play’s focus on the transformative effects of running also really hit home for Elliot, being both a dedicated runner as well as a member of the Run Dem Crew: a community of young creatives who run 10k around the night streets of London exchanging ideas and generating a crew of engaged and inspired youngsters.
Already a great fan of the work of Roy Williams, Elliot now believes that this adaptation of The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, directed by Marcus Romer of Pilot Theatre, a company renowned for their forward-thinking theatre for the digital age, will be a real innovation “because it’s actually saying something.”
“People go through their lives saying nothing loads of times. Like they actually open their mouths to say nothing for ages… Whereas this says something that provokes you to say something back which is wonderful to be a part of” Elliot explains.
Elliot Barnes-Worrell will star in The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner at York Theatre Royal from 14- 29 September. Tickets available here.