AS STORIES go, Julia Donaldson’s Running On The Cracks is a grim one.
Running on the Cracks
Star rating: * * *
Written for young people, and now transformed into a stage play by Andy Arnold of the Tron, it tells the story of Leonora Chan, a gifted north London teenager whose musician parents have died in a plane crash, leaving her stranded with an unsympathetic aunt, and an uncle whose eerie habit of staring at her while she sleeps becomes increasingly abusive. All Leo knows of her father’s Chinese family – who broke with him when he met her mother – is that they ran a Chinese restaurant in Glasgow, so she flees northward in the hope of finding them.
In Katie Posner’s production – co-produced by the Tron and the London-based Pilot Company – Leo’s story turns into a nightmarish thriller-adventure in the dark underbelly of British society. The story is strangely silent about the issues of class implied within it; but the Glasgow in which Leo finds herself is a Hogarthian landscape of Buckfast drinkers and released mental patients, one of whom – the kindly but unpredictable Mary – takes Leo under her wing.
The 80-minute narrative is fast, jump-cut and exciting, as Leo and her new friend Finlay continue the search for Leo’s family, trying to stay one step ahead of creepy Uncle John; and there are fine performances from the five-strong cast, with Gaylie Runciman in poignant form as Mary, and Jessica Henwick outstanding as Leo. Yet I was left with a sense that the story contained one layer of darkness too many to be entirely convincing. Of Mary’s madness, her fellow-patients, her neighbours, and their way of life, I felt we saw too much; but of Leo’s passionate inner search for her Chinese family, culture and identity, perhaps not quite enough.