Updating Alan Sillitoe’s classic Angry Young Man short story to a modern setting of London gangs, atavistic youths and David Cameron’s moral crusade in response to 2011’s rioting seems, on the face of it, a no-brainer.

The classic story of a borstal boy rebelling against authority the only way he can, through his love of running, represents the young generation’s frustration with – and anger towards – authority as well as any Wild One or Easy Rider.

Things are off to a good start with a striking set centred around a running machine that sees Elliot Barnes-Worrell as protagonist Colin Smith run over five kilometres during the night. It’s no mean feat to run and talk, let alone deliver a performance a strong as the one seen here.

There’s strong support, particularly form Doreen Blackstock and Richard Pepple as Colin’s parents, and Dominic Gately convinces as Home Office man Stevens.

But where the original short story and film reflected a coming shift in attitudes towards class and authority, it’s not clear what we’re supposed to makes of Colin’s antagonism towards Stevens, a kind of right-on liberal archetype who isn’t especially believable, beyond the minds of Daily Mail readers.

Amongst a difficult domestic background, Colin’s staunchly socialist father, the 2011 riots, his materialistic mates and the general angst of adolescence it’s never really clear what Colin believes in, what he’s railing against or why he takes his stance against the admittedly irritating Stevens.

The updating of the story occasionally feels rather heavy-handed – and the addition of the Prime Minister’s voice to punctate proceedings seems rather laboured.

Roy Williams’ new adaptation seems determined to spell out some of the points of Sillitoe’s story, but the end result seems confusing; the audience as unclear as to what point is being made as Colin seems over what drives him to commit his act of rebellion – and to whom he’s thumbing his nose.

The end result is of a strong production, but a confused narrative that never quite manages to chase down the point it’s searching for.

The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Runner
Liverpool Playhouse
Until Saturday 3 Nov