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Maggie Slater | February 13, 2022

Gavin Roach’s one-man show, Run, is an endearing, unique and impressive piece of theatre that bravely lays itself out completely bare to its audience. It can’t hide, and it doesn’t try to. 

Run, tells the story of a boy in love, that anybody; queer, ally, or otherwise, can relate to. I find it hard to articulate just how refreshing it was to hear a queer story that wasn’t obsessed with shame or overly fixated on the main character’s queerness. Though not exactly ground-breaking, Laughton’s character and his story still feels real and takes little effort to invest yourself in, though this is certainly enhanced by Roach and leading man, Ben Stuart’s commendable efforts.

Before the performance even begins, the intimacy and vulnerability of the production is swiftly established. A small room lined with less than twenty chairs forms the theatre, with only a square of AstroTurf and a soccer ball set occupying the stage. The air hums with ambient music and eager anticipation as to how these set pieces will be used to keep our attention for the next seventy minutes.

Stuart enters stage left as Yonni, a 17-year-old boy who has fled from the chaos of his family home’s preparation for Shabbat, in search of some space to think. The first scene falls a little flat, the onus jointly on the shoulders of both director and actor, lacking interesting creative direction. I feel acutely aware that I am watching an actor on a stage who is saying words from a script and moving for the sake of moving—the ultimate faux pas of the dramatic arts. I will for Stuart to look out at us, to acknowledge the people he is addressing, to let me into his relatable teenage stream of consciousness which has begun to fill the room, to no avail.

It’s not long however, before this first impression proved too hasty. Roach’s direction begins to shine, his creativity and thoughtfulness bringing the story to life. Stuart loosens up, finding his purpose on the stage and slowly but surely, he warms the audience up in his hands. He tells Yonni’s story with candour and charm, leaving the audience thoroughly convinced of his skill. Stuart’s stamina and dedication as an actor deserves the utmost praise; I walked into the Gasworks Theatre doubtful of a one-man show’s ability to engage and entertain for such a long period of time, but I happily concede that my scepticism was misdirected.

Roach and Stuart’s combined ability to conjure such vivid and concise imagery and environment throughout the show was a true highlight. (Though, I must reveal my frustration at the lack of effort made to solve the continuity error of Stuart’s distinctly Australian accent speaking to us from Yonni’s home in London). This feat proves how few resources one needs if they are confident in what they’re trying to do and have the skills to execute it. From a busy kitchen to a deserted basketball court in the middle of the night, to a bakery, to a bedroom, even to outer space, I found myself consistently convinced.

I also extend my compliments to sound designer Connor Ross and lighting designer Spencer Herd. Standout moments include the first time Yonni speaks of Adam to the audience (the lighting and smoke effects complimenting his first love-induced haze perfectly) and the scene where he sits awake in bed on his phone (enchanting and familiar, like being right under the covers with a friend at a sleepover). Herd streamlines communication between the lighting design and the tension of the performance, and the two complement each other perfectly. The sound design was enveloping and beautiful, walking hand-in-hand with the performance’s dramatic tension and Herd’s setup. Unfortunately, however, there were times when Ross seemed to let go and wander off, with the music being too loud or predictably placed.

The story’s exploration into modern anti-Semitism was eye-opening and well executed. Though a lack of media coverage may indicate otherwise, anti-Semitism is still rife in first world, particularly in the UK. Without preaching, Laughton’s writing successfully acts as a reminder that whilst we have made significant social progress in the past century, we cannot become complacent.

The main difficulty that this production faced was within the script itself. It yo-yos from clichés to beautiful, nuanced moments, ultimately ending on an unconvincing and confusing final plot point. The script has a variety of issues ranging from occurrences of random, sporadic rhyming dialogue to motif metaphors about young love and space that while initially lovely, (a first, intense infatuation really does feel like being pulled into somebody’s orbit) become entirely overdone and uninspiring. Yet, Roach and Stuart, with the support of Ross and Herd, take the curveballs as best they can, composing a moving and captivating final act despite the challenges provided by Laughton’s writing.

Run was performed as part of Melbourne’s Midsumma festival lineup in 2022.
It is also being performed at Sydney Fringe Festival, from February 16th-19th.

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Maggie Slater

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