Running With Lions is a colourful, vibrant and life-affirming celebration of family, which also addresses the dark shadows lurking in the corners, where things have been swept away and repressed. Gloria returns to her parents’ home where her daughter has been staying whilst she has been away at a mental health clinic. She struggles to get through to her parents, who feel too ashamed to acknowledge her condition. Problems ensue as desires clash and as the family grapple with the past and the underlying tensions between them. The play begins with Gloria’s perspective but then widens into others showing the inescapable intermingling of worlds.
Carter’s writing is very true to life, reflecting conversations which I feel like I have witnessed or had with my own family. She doesn’t compromise on the individuality of the family with their in-jokes and shared experiences whilst still managing to capture something universal. Similarly, the dynamics between the characters are also very natural with Michael Buffong’s intuitive direction. In the awkward, but affectionate relationship between Gloria and Imani, Ruby Barker and Velile Tshabalala navigate it perfectly. Nothing needs to be said, the feelings are palpable as Gloria tries to vanquish her guilt and embarrassment at the holes where memories and knowledge about her daughter should be and as Imani practically tiptoes around her mother. Barker is brilliant as she masters the undulations between concern for her mother and resentment and fatigue.
The grandparents played by Wil Johnson and Suzette Llewellyn are forces of nature with their vivacity and light-hearted humour and sass. I think they captured a certain tenacity that their generation has, as well as the stolid traditions that they adhere to. As for Joshua played by Nickcolia King-N’da, whilst I was intrigued by his character at the beginning, by the end I thought he was portrayed as a sort of archetype and that he didn’t feel like a credible person in some scenes, that he was too selfless. Maybe this was a conscious choice considering that he is being recalled through the others’ memories and what they are projecting onto him, nonetheless I thought that his character could have been a little less cloudy.
The set designed by Soutra Gilmour created a sense of enclosure with stairs that wind round to form the illusion of a room and the spherical aspects mirrored the ideas of wholeness and providence. The lighting was equally impressive, complementing the drastic changes in mood throughout the play.
The play serves as a reminder about collective healing which is easy to overlook as it can feel like we carry our grief on our own. I appreciated the unbiased nature of the play and that you could have completely different inclinations towards characters to the person sitting next to you. We need to see more theatre like this, presenting in a somewhat neutral way without pushing perspectives. It fosters an attitude of understanding and compassion without blame which can help people reframe their own situations in their lives.
Playing until the 12th March 2022, https://lyric.co.uk/shows/running-with-lions/
Reviewer: Riana Howarth
Reviewed: 15th February 2022
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★