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Born To (Free) Run

First Published 23 May 2011, Last Updated 15 February 2012

Matthew Amer leaves the comfort of his office chair behind for an adrenalin-packed meeting with the team behind high-flying parkour show, Free Run.

It’s not very often as an arts journalist that you get the chance to feel like the star of a Bond movie. Sitting in auditoriums watching the world’s finest theatre has its own merits, don’t get me wrong, but it rarely makes you feel as though you could single-handedly save a damsel in distress from a gang of swarthy, toothpick-chewing, ne’er-do-wells with shoulders the size of watermelons.

So I leapt – well, I didn’t so much leap as casually lean forward out of my comfy chair – at the chance to meet the 3Run team that is performing its all-action parkour-based show Free Run at the Udderbelly this summer.

Freerunning, for the uninitiated, is the discipline of running, leaping and vaulting across cityscapes, using every part of the urban environment to perform tricks of increasingly jaw-dropping ridiculousness. Most famously it provided the crane-jumping, wall-hurdling opening sequence for Casino Royale. In fact, 3Run helped create that very sequence. Eager to learn how to leap tall buildings in a single bound and run up walls as stylishly as I can run up a drinks bill, I set off for the South Bank.

How, you may be wondering, can you take an art form so grounded in expansive spaces and reposition it inside the confines of the Udderbelly’s temporary inflatable inverted bovine theatre next to the London Eye? I wondered the same.

“That was always the main challenge,” says 3Run’s Sam Parham, “but I think we’ve approached it in an open minded way.” The result of their acrobatic thinking is a show that combines live action with a giant screen and uses the entirety of the Udderbelly’s auditorium to follow the freerunners on the show’s journey.

“The fact that it is that intimate is brilliant for us,” Parham adds, “because it really gets the crowd involved.”

Watching excerpts from the show, as performers back flip, perform precariously placed handstands, corkscrew through the air and generally execute feats that physics should be able to prove impossible, I wonder how exactly the audience will be able to get involved… and what hope I have of learning any of this gravity-defying phenomena.

The 3Run team has trained for years to make their acrobatic adventures look as easy to them as taking a stroll is for me. “We were always inspired by Jackie Chan,” Parham explains in the South Bank sunshine. “Ever since we were kids we looked up to him. We just liked going out and trying to recreate his moves. It really happened as innocently and as stupidly as just going out and having fun, chucking ourselves about in some sandpits.”

As parkour and freerunning started to ease their way into the public consciousness, 3Run, a team of brothers, cousins and friends from Basingstoke, were in the perfect position to turn a hobby into a job which now takes in film, television, ad campaigns, workshops and, this summer, their live show Free Run.

“Every single day, one way or another, we are training,” explains Parham as I seriously begin to consider whether trying out freerunning for an article is really all that wise. It’s just an article after all; I have a wife and child to consider. “Whether it be out rock climbing or running, in the weights gym, gymnastics, we’re constantly training…” Gulp. “But it doesn’t have to be to that level. That’s the thing with freerunning, it’s as dangerous as you want it to be. If you want to launch yourself off stupid heights and things like that, go ahead; you know what’s going to happen.”

As I glance around the outside of the Udderbelly, I can’t see any obstacles that are too vertigo-inducing. What could the 3Run boys have in store?

“I’m going to show you the parkour roll.” Parkour roll; sounds athletic, some kind of mid-air somersault or twist? It could be a little advanced, but what the hell, I’ve come this far.

As Parham demonstrates, it quickly becomes apparent that this essential move, a way of landing safely after completing jumps, is, in fact, a roly poly. It’s a little more complex than your basic head over heels at a children’s gym class, but still, it doesn’t have the glamour of back-flipping over a gaping chasm. I feel disappointment. I feel relief. And then I try it and I feel, just a little, like an action star after all.

“We always encourage people to go to gymnastics centres and similar places to train safely and build up safely from there,” Parham sensibly adds as he sees the shadow of Jean Claude Van Damme appear behind my eyes. “But in the most basic form of it, you can stick your trainers on, go outside and have a jump about. It’s such a basic, easy yet effective way of exercising, releasing stress, developing strength and confidence. That’s essentially it.”

That may “essentially” be it, but the difference between having a jump about outside and the preview of the show I saw is the same difference as that between my absent-minded doodle of a plant and Van Gogh’s sunflowers.

Still, if they ever need anyone to fill in in the roly poly department…


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