Pros: A well-constructed play with fantastically delivered performances and an interesting narrative
Cons: Suspension of disbelief is required to accept the events of the story and a lot of unanswered questions remain at the end.
As I entered Islington’s Old Red Lion Theatre, I was apprehensive as to how, in just over an hour, a play could effectively consider two such expansive topics such as psychosis and political conflict. It soon became clear that I needn’t have worried.
Correspondence follows 16-year-old Ben (Joe Attewell), a top student set for excellent GCSE results, a writer for his Stockport school newspaper and an avid gamer. Lucinda Burnett’s play focuses on Ben’s friendship with Jibreel (Ali Ariaie), a fellow gamer he meets online. Although Ben and Jibreel both love videogames and are of roughly the same age, the ostensible similarities stop there. Jibreel lives in Syria, where riot and rebellion are common and teenagers frequently go missing. This political turmoil sparks Ben’s interest and, when he doesn’t hear from Jibreel for two days straight, his mind runs wild with possibility and he finds himself fleeing from his Stockport home to war-torn Syria.
Joanna Croll and Mark Extance provide spectacular performances as Ben’s recently divorced parents. The point-scoring dynamic between the two is remarkably witty and painfully accurate, both using Ben as a weapon but ultimately uniting over their fear for his safety. A hilariously exaggerated and unusual character comes in the form of Jill McAusland’s Harriet, a gregarious, bullying schoolmate of Ben’s, who shows great character development as Ben’s mind spirals out of control.
Christopher Nairne’s lighting design is colourfully reminiscent of a videogame, especially when paired with Giles Thomas’ electronic sound effects. Lines of lights run above the audience’s heads towards the centre of the stage, dissecting the space and neatly assisting scene changes. Bethany Wells’ abstract set, which also adds to the videogame atmosphere, consists solely of a giant cross-section of a sphere, lit with white light. Burnett’s dialogue conveys changes in setting more than the minimalist set does, her script’s subtleties seamlessly carrying the flow of the plot.
My only real criticism is that the logistics of the narrative are highly unbelievable. A 16-year-old boy spontaneously running off to Syria with the school bully and coincidentally bumping into his friend seems a little far-fetched. If you are able to suspend your disbelief, however, this meeting makes for an effective climax to the play, artfully bringing Ben’s mental health issues to the fore.
Correspondence is left unresolved and, in a way, I think this reflects lack of solutions to both political conflict and mental health issues. The audience is left to guess if normality for either of the two boys will ever be achieved again. It is a powerful final note. Overall, this is an enjoyable play, staged in a pleasantly intimate venue and packed full of interesting and thought-provoking material.
Author: Lucinda Burnett
Director: Blythe Stewart
Producer: Robyn Keynes, Emma O’Mara
Box Office: 0844 412 4307
Booking Link: www.oldredliontheatre.co.uk
Booking Until: 2 April 2016