Adelaide Fringe. The Warehouse Theatre. 18 Mar 2023
Run, written by accomplished British writer Stephen Laughton, is another in the growing canon of gay coming of age stories. (This Fringe Festival featured at least one other: A Southern Fairytale). It is about Yonni, a gay Jewish teenager, who can’t get as excited about his religion as his pious. Yonni is much more preoccupied in exploring his emerging sexuality and fantasising about his first boyfriend Adam.
The story begins with Yonni’s last day at school, and its ‘muck up’ day. References to the pranks that students play serve to locate Yonni as a fun-loving ordinary sort of lad. Almost, but he’s not. He’s gay, and coming from a devout Jewish family that would rather have him celebrate shabbat than go out with his mates on a Friday night, likely means his ‘coming out’ is not going to be straightforward. But this is not a typical coming out story (what’s typical anyway?): there are no confrontations with disappointed parents, no crises of faith, no ostracism. Rather it is about the fundamental significance of family, falling in love (and in lust), being tested but remaining faithful, glamorizing both real and imagined realities, grieving, and coping with tragic loss.
The text often explores these themes simultaneously, which is both its strength and weakness. As an audience member you are confronted with a rush of detail and thought bubbles – just as if you are in the mind of a hormone drenched teenager – and this allows you to feel Yonni’s excitement and confusion. But the transitions from one thread to another are sometimes insufficiently distinct, and this is not helped by the modest lighting rig in the Warehouse Theatre; indeed, the most effective and empathetic lighting state occurred when the actor used only the light from his mobile phone and the rig itself was fully dimmed.
Laughton’s text borders on poetry. At times the beautifully constructed language fits both the action and Yonni’s state of mind, especially in the almost schmaltzy scenes where Yonni is gushing about his boyfriend. But in other scenes, such as when Yonni is describing an antisemitic/ gay bashing, the flowery language doesn’t sit well with the visceral nature of what is being described. But, having said that, it is not always entirely clear what is real and what is being imagined, and, arguably, the language helps achieve that dramatic ambiguity.
Run is a play for a solo actor. The text is intricate, the themes are profound, the set is austere, the underscore soundtrack is often ethereal and ominous. It all adds up to a show where its success is largely dependent on the skills of the solo actor, and young actor Ben Stuart makes a good fist of it. It is a huge role, and it is emotionally demanding, and Stuart is at his best when he is playing Yonni ‘in love’. His performance is alive, electric and sweet. In the more dramatic moments, when life and limb is at stake, he gives Yonni more confidence and bravado than fear and desperation, but the dense text gets in the way of him giving creating more nuanced moments. Stuart’s overall performance, however, is impressive.
At the conclusion of the play, the stage is dramatically plunged abruptly into darkness. Is it over? Has Yonni snapped back into reality? What is real, and what is imagined? What is real are the tears in Ben Stuart’s eyes as he gently extricates himself from Yonni’s persona, and announces to the appreciative audience that this performance marks the end of his two year association with Run. What an epic journey.
Where: The Warehouse Theatre