This is Ben. See Ben run. See Ben play on X-Box. See Ben go to Syria.

Lucinda Burnett’s clever concept, Correspondence, is smartly staged at the Old Red Lion and blessed with a credible and charismatic central performance by Joe Attewell as sixteen-year-old Ben.

He’s such a good boy and so charming you wonder why he has no friends except for a diminutive and scabrous playground bully played with such gloriously chippy abrasiveness by Jill McAusland you’ll want her to have her own spinoff sitcom, and henceforth will call all your bessie mates ‘Shitbiscuit’.

Ben does have one other friend, his online wargaming chum Jibreel who works in an internet café in Daraa, southern Syria. They banter to improve his English but then there’s radio silence which makes Ben assume Jibreel’s caught up in the political shenanigans. You have to remember this is the idealistic Arab Spring of 2011 well before the demonisation of Assad or the Russian bombing which more recently reduced Daraa to rubble.

So with more than a nod to The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Ben turns boy detective and sets off to solve the mystery of his friend’s disappearance which is where both he, and the play, slacken their grips on reality. Combining the memes of mental illness and youthful idealism, Burnett broadens her focus to a point at which neither topic is adequately served, and the piece unravels with a dying fall which is unsatisfying after the crispness, humour and authenticity of many of the earlier individual scenes.

There’s good support from Mark Extance and Joanna Croll as the feuding parents, although their divorce may be as much a one-dimensional irrelevance as Kate and Wills’ wedding playing in the background, and Ali Ariaie contrasts strongly with Attewell as the teen who has grown up so much faster. The atmospherics in the sound design by Giles Thomas are graciously done and very effective: not sure which made me jump more, the burst of gunfire or the burst of Katy Perry.

I’m not sure either that you can get from Stockport to Daraa in a day. I went to Syria in 2007 and even then it took a couple of hours to get from one side of Damascus to another, let alone down the desert highway to the Jordanian border, search the town’s internet cafés and find a demonstration. That’s a picky detail, of course, but it is indicative of a narrative that prefers the broad-brush approach to the precise. Bit like the Russian bombing.