Edinburgh Fringe 2019
A dad loses his six-year old daughter to cancer and his world falls apart. He starts running to deal with his loss. He runs to try and find the point where he no longer runs, but soars – the point where he is close to her again. I Run is a fast-paced and moving one-man play about how you survive the death of your child. It explores how exercise can improve mental health and why we find it so hard to talk about death.
A one man solo performed entirely on an exercise treadmill throughout the entire show, telling the story of extreme grief and loss through dramatic and breath holding flips through time. Life has become marked by before and after Day 0. The day when everything changed forever. Max Keeble performs this physically and emotionally demanding piece with convincing solidarity. Running, running, running, but trapped in the harsh new lights of this new, stark, intolerable reality.
Running can be a powerful aid to process grief and improve mental health. But at first there was not always so much healing in the running; running became a physical form of torture, of punishment. Running heavy with the guilt of the living. At a particularly difficult part of the show to watch, it became clear that it is only when Keeble’s character is in the most physical pain, that he feels the most connected to his dead daughter. And indeed, as she suffered greatly in her final weeks and days and hours before her death unable to breath properly, he suffers – or tries to suffer – as she did. Keeble expresses so well the furious anger of what his beautiful dancing little girl who bubbled with life had to suffer.
“No one on earth knows how much she suffered.”
This was a unique set; the treadmill at first bizarrely out of place in a theatre space, becomes both the wings and the cage the grieving Dad now lives in as he runs through time, jumping from past to post personal apocolypse. Runs into pure joy and then back into pure horror. Day after day. Mile after mile. At times, the good memories of normal happy times are even more painful to watch than the ones in hospital when his fragile tiny daughter is dying and gasping for breath.
The performance of Keeble was so convincing I thought it was his story, about his daughter and when I stumbled out into the daylight blinking and taking a deep breath I had to remind myself this wasn’t. But it is somebody’s. We all know about grief, but only a certain few live through the illness and death of a child. And they live in their own particular nightmare, which I think this play successfully takes the audience into. From the very start we are thrust into grief. And when you thought it couldn’t be any more sad or heavy, the music, lighting, sound and powerful performance all take us uneasily from hospital bedside and death to birthday party to running on the streets desperate and back and forth many times sharply, building upon and layering up the tension that was already high.
There was subtly in the writing too as well as power. Early on, his family members are only referred to in relation to his lost daughter. And then later on, they become more vivid in the story, we start to see a shape of them we hadn’t seen before as he was so lost and wretched in his private hell. I can only assume the writing comes influenced from a lived experience; the quality and detail of the dialogue is powerful and extraordinary, the direction sharp and bold and this original piece of work deserves attention.
I was personally moved by this work, my faces wet with tears and my throat tight. Seeing a man express an emotional trauma so eloquently and convincingly is a fine and important thing and I highly recommend this show.