The Runner (3 stars)

The Runner

Youth company brings the refugee crisis into sharp focus

When we see images of refugees packed into dinghies, squeezed into the back of vans or tragically, washed up on a beach, it's not always easy to connect their story with ours. In order to process the horror, the people in the photos somehow need to remain 'other', not like us. But The Runner, in its own small way, reminds us that it's the homeland they're fleeing that's different to ours, not them.

It would be easy to dismiss a group of kids from an expensive fee-paying school (Magdalen College School, Oxford) as having no sense of the world they're portraying here. And yet, that's quite possibly why this show works. Because a change in political stability, leading to conflict and displacement, happens in places of previous harmony – so when young Nina, her brother Taz and best friend FC suddenly find themselves running for their lives, they're as baffled by the change in circumstance as anyone would be.

Cleverly, the show has no place or time. We don't know where they've come from, or where they're headed – just that a language barrier impedes their progress. Writer Francesca Murray-Fuentes has done her research, and the show is littered with facts and scenarios about fleeing your home, finding transport and being 'processed' that young audience members in particular will be unaware of. And, crucially, it's all delivered in a way that's neither patronising nor unduly heavy.

A little rough around the edges at times, the acting has no shortage of passion (Issy Crutchley as 12-year-old Nina is a strong lead) and the addition of live music is a nice touch, acting as a soundtrack to the young characters' hazardous journey across land and sea.

But ultimately, it's Murray-Fuentes' believable, funny and touching script that gives The Runner credibility and brings the refugee experience, so often reduced to a faceless news story, into very sharp focus.

Underbelly, until 19 Aug, 10.40am, £8.50–£9.50 (£7.50–£8.50).

The Runner

  • 3 stars

MCS Drama Nina loves adventures. She's always getting herself into scrapes. But this adventure is different. This is for real. Nina, her big brother Taz, and their annoying neighbour, begin an epic journey over land and sea as they seek refuge far from home. A coming-of-age quest about how unlikely friends, a stray…

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