The Runner is a lovely piece of new writing by Francesca Murray-Fuentes (currently Resident Director at the Oxford Playhouse). It tells the sadly familiar tale of a brother (Jago Wainwright) and sister (Issy Crutchley) sent by a desperate parent (Shabri Dalal) to seek their passage to safety in another land. The two refugees are not, however, portrayed as shell-shocked Syrians but as ordinary English children who, joined by the brother’s football-loving friend FC (“Farting Champion” – Harry Camilleri), a sassy lass “Tucks” (played by Flora Tucker in the style of George from the Famous Five) and a spirited dog, approach the dangerous journey in the style of an Enid Blyton Adventure story. Despite their squabbles, they show the same naïve, optimistic determination to keep going in the face of every obstacle.
Somehow, their traditional Englishness and naivete make the story all the more poignant, as they innocently run the gamut all the perils of the journey – the exploitative profiteers and people traffickers, the boats which are too small, the overpriced and ineffective lifejackets,the lack of air in the boot of a car or van, the unsympathetic and inflexible bureaucratic systems, the foreigners who shout at them angrily and incomprehensibly in a strange language.
The script is superb, telling the story tightly and with humour. The credible characters are beautifully drawn, with not a word out of place. The young cast perform it perfectly, with pace and energy, and bring those characters to life, even the dog - it is worth seeing the show just to fall in the love with the enchanting little puppet dog, brilliantly mastered by Flora Tucker.
The Runner provides a really fresh and unsanctimonious approach to depicting the sad plight of refugees and asylum-seekers movingly and with great warmth of spirit. If you cannot catch it at the Burton Taylor studio this week, it will subsequently be running at the Edinburgh Festival. I wish this production well: it deserves a good audience.