by Clara Brennan.
Trafalgar Studios (Studio 2) 14 Whitehall SW1A 2DY To 7 March 2015.
Mon-Sat 7.45pm Mats Thu 7 Sat 3pm.
Runs: 1hr 30min No interval.
TICKETS: 0844 871 7632.
Review: Carole Woddis 12 February.
Staging the stages of grief.
As Vera Brittain wrote of her WW1 lover, Roland Leighton, after his death, “I did not then know that if the living are to be of any use in this world, they must always break faith with the dead.”
Clara Brennan comes to much the same conclusion in a more roundabout fashion in Boa. First `staged’ as a reading at last year’s HighTide Festival, Boa takes a circuitous route through the relationship between a slightly reserved English dancer and an American journalist. Only towards the end do we fully see it as a flashback, an attempt to assuage an overwhelming loss.
Harriet Walter plays Boa, with her real-life husband Guy Paul as Louis, son of a kayaking backwoodsman and Pulitzer prize-winner at 26. Presumably though we’re not exactly told, it’s for his reporting in Vietnam, to which the couple return at one point to slay certain ghosts.
Hauntings are very much part of Boa, together with recrimination, alcoholism, depression – and love, of course, in the exploration of a relationship built on the attraction of opposites.
Boas, says Louis at the beginning, can be light as a feather or constricting. Rather alarmingly the Trafalgar Studios programme parades Walter and Paul entwined in a large, leathery beastie. Clearly to Louis, Boa was both enchantment and latterly, curse, as, unable to dance any more, she slips into despair and the bottle, while he, back in London as an archivist and a burnt-out case, renounces writing.
At its best, Brennan’s writing is sharp and emotionally perceptive; at its worse predictable and over-analytical. As grief and loss of a loved one is Boa’s over-arching theme, there’s a certain rationale for the über-introspection when Boa’s all-consuming grief calls up her lost love to hang the tighter to his memory.
But Louis knows better and the play is ultimately an exploration in learning how to let go and go on living.
Walter, as ever, is a pleasure to watch, sleek and skilful, well-matched by Paul. Hannah Price’s production invests the duologue with subtle changes of mood and light as grief’s stranglehold is confronted and partially vanquished.
Boa: Harriet Walter.
Louis: Guy Paul.
Director: Hannah Price.
Designer: Anthony Lamble.
Lighting: Malcolm Rippeth.
Sound/Music: Dave Price.
Movement: Ann Yee.
Choreographer: Michela Meazza.
Costume: Jenny Beavan.
A reading of Boa took place on 13 April 2014 as part of the HighTide Festival.
World premiere of Boa at Trafalgar Studios, London, 5 February. 2015.