Review: A journey of ups and downs, Correspondence, Old Red Lion Theatre
Ben (Joe Attewell) is a quiet, curious 16-year-old living in Stockport. His parents are separated and bicker. He doesn't seem to have many friends not unless you count Syrian teen Jibreel (Ali Ariaie) with whom he chats on XBox Live and Harriet (a brilliantly feisty Jill McAusland) who bullies him and calls him 'Shitbiscuit'.
He edits the school newspaper and is interested in what is going on in the world - his contemporaries lack of interest dismays him. He is a typical teenager a mixture of idealism, optimism, confusion and frustration.
Set at a time when the Arab Spring was in its hopeful infancy, Jibreel disappears from XBox live. Ben fears he's been arrested and decides to go on a rescue mission.
And this is where I starting having a problem with Lucinda Burnett's play. Up until this point it's a solid family/teen drama. Joe Attewell is a convincing and endearing teenager and the dialogue between the friends is witty and sometimes laugh out loud funny. But when Ben bunks off school to jet off to Syria - Harriet is a last minute addition to the trip - it felt contrived and stretched credibility.
While Ben is in Syria he has a psychotic episode the aftermath of which reminded me of little of The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Once he returns home the play satisfyingly resumes and there are poignant moments as Ben reconnects with his life and with Jibreel.
Revolution in the middle east and mental health are weighty topics to tackle but in an hour and a half it doesn't feel like either are given a proper airing. There are moments that hint at what could have been a more wholly powerful piece - being reminded of the optimistic beginnings of the Arab Spring, for example. But ultimately I only travelled part of the way on Ben's journey. It's getting three and a half stars from me because there were bits of it I really enjoyed.
Correspondence is an hour and a half and runs at the Old Red Lion Theatre until April 2.