The Pursuit of Joy

Safaa Benson-Effiom
Jermyn Street Theatre

Listing details and ticket info...

Razak Osman as Ardel, Tia Dunn as Joan and Antonia Layiwola as Iona Credit: Jack Sain

Three strangers meet in an airport and share a holiday trip across South American that will take them on a 2,349-mile journey to Brazil, Peru, Uruguay, Bolivia and Argentina. All three appear to be British.

First on the scene is Iona who will identify herself as thirty and the other two are probably about the same age. She seems to be nervous and insecure, lost where to go and (por favor) is muttering Spanish phrases she finds in her open guidebook, the source for the snippets of information she will feed to the others at every location. Joan arrives next (are you going to Rio?), a little too loud and full of enthusiasm, though it turns out it's her first flight and indeed the first time she has been away from home and she has been knocking back vodkas on the plane. Ardel is the third arrival, still het up from a confrontation with someone who grabbed his luggage at reclaim.

Quite why they should meet up in arrivals isn’t clear. Is it because they see someone who they think might speak English who might know more about making the next move? Are they all booked on a multi-based tour package?

No guide or tour manager ever appears. No one explains how they move round a continent, the scene simply changes from country to country, from taking photos of sunrise over Machu Picchu to viewing the salt flats of Bolivia, dancing a tango in Argentina, being impressed by the architecture of Montevideo cathedral and blowing bubbles on the Copacabana beach in Rio. But this isn’t a travel documentary; it is an imaginative reminder of the need to shed hang-ups and enjoy life. Though the cast make the characters come alive, it doesn’t have to be naturalistic; it includes the voices within their heads and they literally shed their emotional baggage.

Antonia Layiwola presents an Iona whose confidence has been undermined by her mother’s put-downs, but we see the change as the New World and meditation help her become her own woman; Tia Dunn’s Joan is recording every stage of the journey, a journey her father talked of but never made, but she has to start living her own life too; while Razak Osman’s panicky Ardel has to shed unwarranted guilt and enjoy life—enjoy the experience, not always seek shelter.

The Pursuit of Joy may be a little contrived in making its point, but it does so in an effective theatrical manner while the cast interact in a very real way. In not much more than an hour, it can’t dig very deeply, but they win us over, especially as we see them enjoying warm rain.

Reviewer: Howard Loxton

*Some links, including Amazon,,, ATG Tickets, LOVEtheatre, BTG Tickets, Ticketmaster, LW Theatres and QuayTickets, are affiliate links for which BTG may earn a small fee at no extra cost to the purchaser.

Are you sure?