ELLIOT Barnes-Worrell knows about the togetherness as well as the loneliness of the long-distance runner.

“I used to run with The Run Dem Crew, a running collective that runs at night. We’d run all over London, always starting and ending in Shoreditch,” says the Clapham actor, who will make his professional debut at the age of 21 in York Theatre Royal and Pilot Theatre’s co-production of Alan Sillitoe’s short story.

“In total, there were around 150 of us in the crew, in four categories: Hares, Greyhounds, Cheetahs and The Elite, and I ran with the Cheetahs.”

Elliot is continuing his runs in York – on Tuesday night, we bumped into him and Theatre Royal head of communications Abbigail Wright mid-run on the city streets – as he prepares to play Colin Smith, Sillitoe’s young rebel, in The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Runner.

Elliot is a young man with rhythm as his middle name, whether as a runner or a poet, and the two combined in the Run Dem Crew and now in his lead role in Roy Williams’s new adaptation of Sillitoe’s story, which takes place inside the head of 17-year-old Colin on a long run in real time, set in the year of the London Olympic Games.

“The way I got into running with the Run Dem Crew is that I’m a spoken-word poet and initially it was creatives that went running,” says Elliot. “Among them was my friend James Messiah, who’s also a poet, and because I already did muay thai, a form of kick-boxing, which you need a lot of fitness for, and because I was already a poet and a runner, he said, ‘Why don’t you join the Run Dem Crew?’.”

On the cusp of leaving the Central School of Speech and Drama – “or Screech and Trauma,” as he jokes – Elliot was looking for the ideal role for his first professional theatre job, and Colin Smith, a rebel and runner inhabiting a no man’s land of detention centres and young offenders’ institutes, was that role.

“I said to my agent, ‘you’ve got to get me an audition’. I couldn’t think of a better role to start my career with,” he says.

“I’m big into literature and there were always loads of books in the house as I was growing up – and when I found out that Roy Williams was doing the adaptation of Sillitoe’s book I really wanted to do the play. Roy Williams is an incredible writer who uses incredibly powerful words in his plays.”

Elliot did not mention it in the interview but we discovered later that he is the son of St Lucia-born writer, director and composer Trix Worrell, creator of Channel 4’s ground-breaking black sitcom Desmond’s, which ran from 1989 to 1994.

Son Elliot has inherited the gift for writing and a love of language. “I love words and I’ve always loved words,” he says. “That’s why I love Shakespeare so much and that’s why I love writing poetry and performing so much.”

How he relished the monologue from Williams’s script that he was sent for the audition. “When an actor and a spoken-word artist receives a monologue like that, it’s wonderful to get into it, so for the audition I pitched it like a poem, like I was expressing this guy’s inner-most feelings in a raw way,” says Elliot.

“I also have a natural rhythm when I perform my poems: it’s like a beat poet, reacting to what my heartbeat is doing, and then there were these amazing words by Roy, and as I’m a poet I presented it in the most natural way.

Elliot auditioned first for Pilot artistic director Marcus Romer, then Roy Williams and assistant director Tom Bellerby two days later. “When I got the phonecall at Central to say I’d got it, I said, ‘Are you mad’, hung up on my agent and went for a run,” he recalls. “Straight down Primrose Hill, with my bag on and everything!”

Elliot will keep on running in the show, in which a treadmill will feature prominently. “We were almost going to do the whole show with me on the treadmill, but that’s changed, though I’ll be doing at least 50 per cent of it on there,” he says.

With that in mind, Elliot is taking every precaution to prepare properly for the long run. “Pilot are providing me with some physio – I’m seeing a physio this week – and I’ll be getting some sports massage,” he says.

“I’m also doing press-ups, sit-ups, squats, pull-ups, dips, without the aid of any weights, so it’s all my own body weight. For every day’s rehearsal, I’ve been working out with some of the cast members and I’m now the fittest I’ve ever been.”

Such is Elliot’s desire for capturing the “loneliness” of the title that he left the Run Dem Crew. “One of the reasons I did that was to run on my own, for the loneliness of the long distance runner, cutting myself off that way,” he says.

“Now I’m running 10k by myself, in my world, four times a week in York, running on the old walls and down by the river.”

This is only the beginning for Ellliot Barnes-Worrell but you sense his story will run and run.

The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Runner, Pilot Theatre/York Theatre Royal, at York Theatre Royal, next Friday to September 29, then on tour. York box office: 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk