This review was originally written for The Reviews Hub: http://www.thereviewshub.com
Think back five years. William and Katherine were getting wed, Katy Perry was dominating the pop charts and ripples from the Arab Spring were starting to reach Syria. Lucinda Burnett’s 80 minute one act play was first written at around that time and it now reaches the stage, refined with touches of hindsight. Ben (Joe Attewell) is a troubled teenager in Stockport, the son of divorced parents, victim of bullying and an aspiring journalist writing articles for his school newspaper, Jibreel (Ali Ariaie) is Syrian, wary of an oppressive regime, conscious of the growing insurgency, but fearful of the consequences for himself and his family. The two boys meet on the internet, competing in games on their X-Boxes. Burnett sows the seeds for a fascinating drama in a touching opening scene, with Dan and Jibreel, both played beautifully, enjoying their game and partaking in carefree banter on popular culture as seen from very different perspectives. However, the game of Modern Warfare is about to be encroached upon by actual modern warfare, virtual reality is to be replaced by cruel reality. The writer’s vision of innocent youthful friendship crossing international borders and breaking down cultural barriers resonates strongly and promises much for the scenes to follow. Essentially, this play needs only two characters and it begins to go wrong when others are introduced. Dan’s parents (Joanna Croll and Mark Extance) appear in long drawn out scenes of tedious bickering and, much worse, Dan’s tormenter at school, the irksome, shrill-voiced Harriet (Jill McAusland) turns up to bully him relentlessly. This character is poorly written and overplayed, becoming little more than a comic caricature that sits uncomfortably in a drama dealing with serious issues. Accepting that Burnett needs to establish factors contributing to Dan’s deteriorating mental health, she does not need to dwell on them for so long that they detract from the story that she is telling and prevent her from developing the central characters fully. There are faint suggestions of parallels being drawn between the boys’ relationship and interventions by Western nations in the Syrian catastrophe, but, again, such themes remain underdeveloped. Bethany Wells’ set, a visual representation of the internet, adapts well to suit the needs of the action and director Blythe Stewart uses it imaginatively, although she is not able to inject life into the play’s sticky patches. This is a drama that begins full of promise, goes nowhere for long stretches and ends just when the central story should be getting into its stride. It is the thought that the play is so full of interesting ideas that makes the end result so disappointing.
Performance date: 10 March 2016
Photo: Richard Lakos