DramaNorth WestReview

The Lost Boy – St Mary’s Creative Space, Chester

Writer: Stephanie Dale

Director: Kate McGregor

Reviewer: Clare Boswell

Two years in the making, The Lost Boy is the latest offering by Chester-based company Theatre in the Quarter and is a timely and compelling piece based around the current refugee crisis.

Writer Stephanie Dale has impressively covered a lot of ground in this 90-minute play, balancing a heart-felt and personal story of a young Syrian boy’s experiences of life within a foreign, and often hostile country, alongside wider socio-political issues. Certainly, in the wake of Brexit, an upcoming general election and a general sense of uncertainty about what the future holds for immigrants and their families, one would struggle to think of a more pressing and pertinent subject matter for a production.

Dale’s writing excels when focusing on the ‘humans behind the headlines’ and a beautiful relationship has been crafted between protagonist Karem (Andrei Costin) and 15-year-old local teenager Maddie (Jill McAusland). Delightful conversations concerning flying saucers, whether pizza exists in Syria and Maddie’s affectionate correcting of Karem’s English pronunciation, all resonate in their simplicity and humanity.

There are moments when the dialogue is a little trite and stifles characterisation and depth, especially some of the choir attendees who border on the extreme and one-dimensional. However, this is countered by some wonderfully nuanced moments, notably from Jonathan Markwood as Maddie’s father Frank. Dale’s text and Marwood’s performance work together to create a real sense of the hopelessness and frustration felt by many working-class men in the UK, struggling to make ends meet and provide for their families. The character of Frank could all too easily have slipped into caricatured bigotry and hatred, but Dale and Marwood have clearly worked hard to create a sufficient backstory to account for Frank’s behaviour. The result is a sympathetic and authentic personification of the many genuine concerns people in the UK have towards our current economic crisis.

Director Kate McGregor has provided innovative direction, which ensures that the piece remains slick and seamless throughout. There are some lovely visual moments, notably the use of multi-media which provides some particularly heart-wrenching verbatim accounts of real-life refugee experiences. Dawn Allsop’s set design also perfectly captures a sea-side town in decline.

Victoria Brazier turns in a strong performance as mum Clare, creating a real sense of her frantic and nervous disposition and Jill McAusland is credible and effecting as the playful yet wilful Maddie. However, it is Andrei Costin’s touching and vulnerable portrayal of Karem which is the stand-out performance of the evening. It is impossible not to become deeply engaged by Costin’s ability to portray both fragility and strength on stage.

The Lost Boy is undoubtedly a production of courage and integrity. Some of the dialogue is a little heavy-handed but generally the production manages to remain on-message without succumbing to the temptation to preach. What makes this piece so valuable is its effort to raise a few voices up in response to the huge and unwieldy question of immigration. In times of crisis, theatre becomes crucial in highlighting the aspects of humanity that unite us all and The Lost Boy successfully retains an emotionally charged and human story at its core.

Runs until 7 May 2017 | Image: Mark Carline

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