Katie Arnstein takes on the marathon task of becoming the coach, spirit guide and friend to elderly hospital porter George, who has lined himself up with his own quite literal marathon effort. When Katie’s Mum was diagnosed with Bowel Cancer, Katie found herself in the waiting room with an assortment of characters. While at first they all seem wrapped up with distractions and idiosyncracies to keep each other from chatting about the big C word that levitates above them all and their relatives. As she peels back their layers and gets underneath the skin with the disease, how it transforms lives and how it makes people commitment to life-changing goals, we’re party to probably one of the most disarmingly poignant storytelling experiences you could get. Laugh-a-minute, cry-the-next, The Long Run is joyfully sensitive and soulfully hilarious.
As we walk into the room, Katie greets you with the offering of a fruit pastille, and the whole thing carries a great air of personability. The venue is lined, much like a school fete, in colourful bunting with chalk drawings of the London Marathon route lining the stage from one end to the other. For a show covering cancer, the setting establishes the tone to be welcoming, light and embracing of its’ forward-thinking, strident nature. Arnstein soon settles into an informal and exuberant storytelling style, and the pace of the narrative is absolutely breakneck from start to finished, stuffed with tiny blink-and-you’ll-miss-it jokes (Kings Cross St. Pancreas) and long, heartfelt anecdotes about how her Mum handled her cancer treatment. Each of the other family members who spends their days in the ward’s corridor is unpacked, with special focus on Katie’s unlikely porter-friend George.
After embarrassingly losing her temper in front of the sarcastic porter for his fast-paced squeaking, always in Skechers and sprinting down the halls, they fall into an unlikely alliance to help George complete t he London Marathon. As Katie’s mum moves into remission, George falls into Katie’s life in London, and Katie understands the gravity of impact and determination that the illness has on people’s lives. Cancer is treated with the utmost care, despite often being central to the jokes on display it is never assumed for one moment that it isn’t a devastating, tragic illness. The jokes mostly lie in Katie’s own ability to put her foot in her mouth or for something absolutely off-the-wall to occur, with the reaction from the audience a wave of laughter, sympathy and understanding.
As Arnstein sprints from end to end of the stage, she wists about time spent with her mum who she clearly adores, and manages to weave a narrative arc about cancer of sentimentality, reflection and how people find personal growth in the darkest and most troubling days of their lives. Her physicality is whimsical, but abvoe all inviting, and we feel very much as though we’re on the same level as her throughout the whole thing. Halfway through the piece, an actor playing George unexpectedly appears, and as the piece becomes a tandem you’re sat with a huge beaming grin and a tear in your eye. In fact, I mean this as genuine survey, by the end of the piece there was literally not a dry eye in the house. The Long Run is something so composed, relatable and heartachingly tender in it’s actualisation that it unwinds your own experiences alongside it. Empathy and compassion grows from understanding and experience, and it feels all of the audience were on the same wavelength by the end of the story.
Blissfully cathartic, willfully certain and gleefully kind-hearted, this is something to just keep going on about.
Recommended Drink: The Long Run is an Aperol Spritz – citrusy, zesty, fresh and bittersweet.