Rain and Zoe Save the World review – teens on a messy eco-adventure | Theatre


Given the scale of the environmental challenges facing their world, you can forgive teenagers for feeling pretty muddled. They know that action needs to be taken without delay; their parents and teachers preach patience and circumspection and tell them they’re too young to take matters into their own hands. For every steel-eyed Greta Thunberg, you can be sure there are a dozen or more like the title characters of this play, for whom fear for their future and anger at adults’ apathy will only exacerbate the maelstrom of teenage emotion.

Sixteen-year-old Zoe, suspended from school by a headteacher who deems her “too excitable”, strains with resolve and frustration. Through sheer force of character (AKA bossiness) she convinces her new neighbour, Rain, to drive her across country on his inherited motorcycle, from their west coast home to a protest against a polluting oil company in Philadelphia, where Zoe may or may not find her long-absent mother. Along the way, the naive pair get lost, fall in love and argue about what constitute legitimate forms of protest, before accidentally turning into the Bonnie and Clyde of glitter-bombing pipelines.

Accidental Bonnie and Clyde … Mei Henri as Zoe and Jordan Benjamin as Rain.
Accidental Bonnie and Clyde … Mei Henri as Zoe and Jordan Benjamin as Rain. Photograph: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian

Unfortunately, their understandably messy emotional states (Rain frequently finds himself speaking to his dead father, Zoe conjures the moon as her mother) are matched by the untidiness of Crystal Skillman’s story, which is too flimsily constructed to bear the weight of the big themes it’s asked to carry. The plot careers off into a second half of increasingly unbelievable action (how two kids who don’t know how to pitch a tent manage to infiltrate an oil refinery is a mystery).

But it is presented with great verve by its likable leads, Jordan Benjamin and Mei Henri, and designed with panache by Zoe Hurwitz; there is inventiveness too, from Richard Holt and Salma Shaw, who play all the other characters and the road scenes in which they become the motorbike are a highpoint of Hersh Ellis’s direction. You leave wondering who exactly the show is for: tonally, it feels like an educational piece for teenagers, and yet it never truly captures their language.

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