Run, Rebel: runaway hit

Pilot Theatre have a track record of strength in so many areas. Their collaboration with Manjeet Mann in the latest of their young adult adaptations has once more pushed their achievements to perfection.

In all of my theatre blog coverage, few groups have had such a long and consistently good run as Pilot Theatre. My equivalent to five stars is the Ike Award, which I first gave for an adaptation of The Season Ticket (co-produced with Northern Stage). The second one went to Noughts and Crosses, and that was the first in a series of adaptations of young adult novels that has been doing well. We are now on the the fourth. Run, Rebel is a book by Manjeet Mann. It is about Amber Rai, who dreams of being a runner, but her conservative father thinks it time she was married off. It is Mann herself who has adapted the play – and what do you know, Pilot Theatre has done it yet again. For the first time ever, a theatre company has scooped a third one of these:

There are two things I’ve noted Pilot Theatre for: firstly, their innovative approach to staging, and secondly, their ethos for super-diverse casting which, in my opinion, gets it right. Now I’ve noticed a third thing they’re good at: openings. You can read so much into the characters before they’ve spoken a single word. In The Bone Sparrow, for instance, we saw from Jimmie’s first brief appearance she’s lonely and a misfit. Here (thanks to director Tessa Walker), the first glance shows us the family dynamics of the Rai family, with Amber’s headstrong optimism contrasted by her meeker and passive mother Surinder. Amber only has to say about her sister Ruby “She doesn’t live with us any more” to know there’s a lot more to this. As for her father Harbans, we know there’s going to a problem here – but it doesn’t exactly scream “snarling wife-beater” to you. We will learn more about this later.

However, blink and you’ll miss it. The next few scenes depicts life at school that is … perfectly normal. There are two things that currently concern teenage Amber. The first is whether she should listen to her PE teacher who thinks she’s got what it takes to become a professional runner. The second is whether the boy she likes feels the same way about her – but David and his family spent most of the summer with Tara and her family, Tara being her other best friend. As far as they’re all concerned, the only thing out of the ordinary is that she has a dad who’s “a bit strict”. But this is no ordinary tale of a teenage girl trying to persuade her dad to let her stay out later. Harbans is saying people will talk if she’s not married soon. And – more frighteningly, he reminds Amber of the girl over the road who came to a bad end because she brought shame on her family.

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