RUNT (fortyfivedownstairs) - 60 minutes without interval
Updated: Feb 28
Patricia Cornelius is one hell of a writer. She doesn’t pull her punches. Her dialogue hits you between the eyes.
And so it is with RUNT, which she has co-created with her collaborators in an earlier multi award-winning work, SHIT, Susie Dee and Nicci Wilks.
RUNT benefits from a stellar solo showing by Wilks, a searing soundscape by Kelly Ryall, Jenny Hector’s evocative lighting design and Dee’s astute direction.
Photos by Pier Carthew
With a single actor on stage for 60 minutes without interval, choreography becomes critical and Michelle Heaven had a key role in orchestrating Wilks' movements.
The performer is forever on the go, embracing the lows and highs of her character.
She channels isolation, abandonment, despair, ridicule and contempt, as well as momentary happiness and resolve in a power-packed physical and mental work out.
This is a play about the runts of the world: the lesser, the unwanted, the weak, those without clout, the insignificant ... all the “unders”.
It is presented as theatre in the round, with the stage area being a series of thin boards, themselves in the round and slightly elevated, such as that which would feel at home in a circus.
The only prop is a large sack, which starts above “the ring” and marks the start of proceedings with a thud.
The opening, with its cacophony of disturbing sound and the gradual appearance of a small, undernourished woman, sure has impact ... and sets the scene for what follows.
Runt, as she is referred to, was the last born of more than a dozen children, including several sets of twins.
It quickly became clear that this “puny ... miserable excuse” for a human being was unwanted and unloved and so she was kicked out, left to fend for herself as best she could.
She was treated shamefully at school, not listened to and, once again, disposed of.
Unexpectedly, at a dance there was a glimmer of hope when a man took a fancy to her and her diminutive stature, but he too quickly discarded her. Attraction turned to repulsion.
We come to understand that all manner of atrocities was perpetrated upon her, such that she determined she was done with pain and feelings.
Runt then resolved to toughen up, to be seen, to be loud, to take control, to retaliate against her oppressors.
She decided to adopt an “eye for an eye” approach.
This vigilante philosophy gave her a new-found freedom, but that too was short-lived.
There was no leg in the door, no new opportunities, despite wanting what others had, despite desiring the world to be a better place and hers to be a decent life.
For a moment Runt grew taller (figuratively), but was quickly put back in her place, alongside the other runts, who are perceived as a drain on society ... and for whom a bleak fate awaits.
They are not noticed, not known and not thought of – unfed, untouched ... a waste.
The play is a sobering reminder of man’s inhumanity to man, how the downtrodden face inordinate obstacles to find their way out of the mire ... how society is increasingly divided between haves and have nots.
More than that, difference is viewed with suspicion and disdain.
Change in attitude is sorely needed, but RUNT questions whether we are any closer to that point or if pervasive negativity smothers the appetite for a quantum shift.
It is an intense piece of social commentary, playing at fortyfivedownstairs until 7th March, 2021.