The Pursuit of Joy review – Jermyn Street Theatre, London

 Razak Osman, Tia Dunn and Antonia Layiwola. Photo: by Jack Sain

The Pursuit of Joy, the new play co-created by writer Safaa Benson-Effiom and director Brigitte Adela, follows three English strangers who meet on a once-in-a-lifetime month-long package trip to South America where each plans to take in the sights and sounds of Peru, Bolivia, Uruguay, Argentina Brazil – each with different motivations for their journey.

Iona (Antonia Layiwola) is attempting to escape her mother – she is plagued by her; a voice in her head that questions her at every turn. She meets Joan (Tia Dunn) as they wait for the coach that is collecting them from the buzzing Lima airport, with Joan collecting the noise of the terminal on a dictaphone where she is recording her experiences for her parents. She is living the trip for her parents, rather than her herself – and, like Iona, she carries a secret.

They are completed by Ardel (Razak Osman), whose mobile phone is an extension of himself – he too hides the reason for his place on the escapade. It’s his second time, though, having failed to make it out of the terminal last time around after discovering on his arrival that his father had fallen at home – turning around and going straight back to England.

There is a significant risk of cliche with the premise – with members of a developed country running off to find themselves in developing countries – but it’s well handled by Benson-Effiom and Adela, even if it feels a little over-earnest, at times.

The characters feel well-rounded and are excellently portrayed by the cast of three who find the nuances and contradictions of their characters. Layiwola captures Iona’s permanent state of self-doubt, the floor-ward glance every time she speaks, Dunn hides Joan’s grief behind Miss Rachel levels of enthusiasm and Osman allows Ardel to grow from emotional detachment into level-headed maturity.

At 60 minutes, it doesn’t quite get enough time to get under the skin of each character and the story feels rushed in the latter stages with each character’s revelation following hot on the heels of the other and some of the fantasy elements feeling underworked. Still, though it is somewhat light, this is an enjoyable and life-affirming story of three strangers who find themselves and each other by stepping out of what they know to be normal.

The Pursuit of Joy is at Jermyn Street Theatre until 27 January 2024 as part of Footprints Festival 2024

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