Run, Rebel review – issues-led adaptation of Manjeet Mann’s YA novel | Theatre

Run, Rebel is the final production in a four-year project that has seen adaptations of award-winning novels by Malorie Blackman (Noughts and Crosses), Alex Wheatle (Crongton Knights) and Zana Fraillon (The Bone Sparrow). “The goal has been to inspire an expansion and diversification of the range of work that is made and programmed for young adults and secondary-school age children,” says Esther Richardson, artistic director of Pilot Theatre (one of five companies that make up the consortium of producers: the others are Mercury theatre, Colchester; Belgrade theatre, Coventry; Derby theatre and York Theatre Royal). These works offer “narratives that are fresher and may feel more immediately relevant and relatable to their lives, than existing set and ‘classic’ texts”.

Fifteen-year-old Amber (Jessica Kaur) lives with her non-English-speaking parents on what she describes as “one of the roughest and biggest estates in the country”. Her violent, alcoholic father is determined that she will not bring dishonour on the family (Amber’s elder sister has already been forced into an arranged marriage). His network of friends is quick to inform him if she dares an after-school visit to McDonald’s with classmate Tara and nascent love interest David (impressive professional debut from Kiran Raywilliams). School offers hope: encouraging Amber’s talents as a runner; inspiring her, through history lessons on revolution, to rebel.

Manjeet Mann, working with director Tessa Walker, has herself adapted her much-praised 2020 verse novel. The result comes across as not so much a dramatisation of Amber’s story, more a demonstration of issues affecting her. These include: bullying; deprivation; domestic abuse; friendship and relationships; revolution and rebellion; women and sport (listed in the “Resources” section of the play’s text). Some vivid theatrical moments enliven an overlong production (a race run “uphill” on Debbie Duru’s curved set, for instance) and a five-strong ensemble ably supports Kaur, who is intense and engaging in the central role.

Run, Rebel is at Belgrade theatre, Coventry, 21-25 March