Human beings are fragile things. For example, a trip when getting in or out of a taxi cab can break a small bone and render a person immobile for six weeks. We faint if it gets too hot and cease operating completely if it gets too cold. If human bodies are bad then our feelings and personalities are even more fragile. Sometimes all it takes is a word or sentence out of place to ruin a friendship, destroy a relationship or even change a life completely. At the same time as being so fragile, people can be amazingly strong. Both physically and mentally they are able to withstand things that would floor a lesser individual. A fine example of this dichotomy in the human race can be found in Stephen Laughton’s Run which, after a sell-out run at the Vault Festival last year has now transferred to the Bunker Theatre.
Yonni (Tom Ross-Williams) is a seventeen-year-old London boy who appears to come from a typical, close-knit Jewish family. He is a normal teenage lad who speaks the language of the young and has the usual on/off relationship with his parents that most people remember from their adolescence. As well as being Jewish, Yonni holds another of the protected characteristics as he is gay. He has a story to tell and he tells it well. About being a gay Jewish boy in London in this day and age. About his love for Adam and the way their romance grew from a chance meeting at a bus stop to sleepovers and their bonding over a beached humpback whale. Yonni’s love for Adam shines through everywhere and everything he does and sees is influenced by the spirit of his boyfriend.
Stephen Laughton has written a real ‘bobby dazzler’ of a play with Run. The story itself is quite fascinating. Even an old fogey like me found something to like in this teenage boy and his occasional mauling of the English language. Having said that, the language of the writing is beautifully crafted making great use of the modern day vernacular and transforming it into wonderful lyrical poet moments as Yonni tries to make sense of his world. One of the things the script – and play text which is well worth getting – reminded me of is how beautiful the Hebrew language is. For example, the Angel Prayer that Yonni recites to himself in bed is just so lovely and comforting. Aside from the names of the angels, I didn’t recognise any other words but somehow that didn’t matter. Just as in opera, it is not necessary to know the language to be affected by it.
Which brings me nicely to the performance by Tom Ross-Williams. Quite simply this is a young man to watch. There was no aspect of his entire monologue that felt like a performance. As he described Yonni’s mother separating the eggs for Shabbat, I could almost see the lady carrying out her precise and measured actions. Similarly, the first time that Yonni and Adam make their real connection, there’s a real glow of happiness mixed with nervousness reflected in Tom’s face that reminds you once again of what it was like to be young and in love for the first time. Tom’s delivery is spot on and even when running across the stage, he is clear and audible so not a word is missed as all eyes follow him around. Director Lucy Wray keeps Tom moving all over the pretty vast stage area and the clever use of lighting and sound (credit to Lucy Hansom and Anna Clock respectively) fills in the blanks and turns a pretty empty stage into everything from a kitchen to Dungeness beach.
Run is a fascinating story which, since the Brexit referendum, has taken on an increased relevance given the rise in anti-semitic and other hate crimes in the UK. When you add to that, the problems of just being young and gay in what is often considered a fairly conservative religious family, then it is understandable why the play is so good. Stephen’s writing, Tom’s acting, and a marvelous story will touch the heart of everyone. Young and old, Jewish or Gentile, LGBT+ or heterosexual. Whoever you are, Run will touch your heart and give you a wonderful evening of theatrical pleasure.
Review by Terry Eastham
Run tells the story of 17-year-old Yonni. It’s the last day of term and he’s avoiding everything… He’s been feeling crappy all day and he’s eager to get home, eager to go to his room, to avoid shabbat, and to talk to Adam. The only person he wants to be around, think about, be about…
And as the night unfolds and falls into chaos – some of it real, some of it not so – Yonni pulls us into his world… A world filled with school riots, first loves, beached whales, political demonstrations, sunshine, cinema, sex and rebellion.
Set over that summer we’ll always remember and encompassing all of space, Run explores what it means to love, what it means to lose and how to grow from a boy into a man…
20th March – 1st April 2017
Running Time: 70 mins, No Interval