Review: The Long Run, VAULT Festival

The marvellous Katie Arnstein (and her fruit pastilles) returns to the VAULT Festival with the intensely moving and funny The Long Run

“My first question is why her?”

If you’ve ever seen a Katie Arnstein show before, then you know that she’s going to give you a sweet as you arrive, and that she’s doing that because she’s more than likely going to make you cry. With her mother’s bowel cancer diagnosis forming the impetus for her newest – The Long Run – there’s a deep well of emotion to draw on but in her inimitable style, there’s also a quiet but raucous vein of humour which means there’s as much of a chance that there’s tears of laughter running down your face as those of sadness.

Through her It’s A Girl trilogy (Bicycles and Fish, Sexy Lamp, Sticky Door), Arnstein has evolved her voice into a festival must-see. Her confessional-style intimacy takes absolutely zero prisoners as she delves into brutally personal subject matters – sexual assault, societal misogyny, mental health, cancer… -but as insightful as her observations are, they’re suffused with the dryest of wits, the smallest of details picked up on to tickle your funnybone mercilessly, each hour-long show filled with killer lines, some of which you can’t help but miss because you’re laughing at the last (knock knock jokes on the Titanic is still killing me now).

With The Long Run, Arnstein turns to the utter upendedness that comes with the diagnosis of a loved one. For her particularly, the inversion of the parental role becomes most striking as she escorts her mum throughout a ferocious course of chemo. And in the psychological darkness of the corridor where you sit if you’re not having radiotherapy – a world in and of itself – a chance meeting leads to the possibility of light at the end. Coping mechanisms, the hardest-won wisdom, the funniest fart joke you’ll hear all year, the kind of unexpected but most vital friendships you could ever dream of and more besides.

Bec Martin’s pitch-perfect production makes brilliant use of the intimacy of the Pit, even as it unfolds its surprises. With the audience in traverse, there’s warmth and inclusion on offer, even through the hardest times. And to give us, and the performer, momentary respite, she also uses the stage to introduce a little breathing space, a little distance for us to compose ourselves. For whilst there’s uplifting humanity here to make the soul soar, especially as the show pivots to marathon running late on, there’s also a tacit acknowledgement of how brutally this world can punch you in the stomach with its unfairness. Achingly beautiful in its generosity of spirit.

Running time: 1 hour (without interval)
The Long Run is booking at VAULT Festival until 5th March

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