Trafalgar Studios Theatre, London
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 us on a circuitous route through the relationship between a slightly reserved English dancer and an American journalist. Only towards the end do we fully come to see it as a flashback and attempt to assuage an overwhelming loss.
Harriet Walter plays Boa, 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 in so many words, for his reporting in Vietnam to which the couple return at one point to slay certain ghosts.
Hauntings indeed 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, the bottle and he, back in London, as an archivist but burnt out case, renounces writing.
At its best, Brennan’s writing is sharp, 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 uber-introspection as Boa’s all consuming grief calls up her lost love the tighter to hang on to his memory.
But Louis knows better and Boa ultimately is an exploration in learning how to let go and go on living.
Walter, as ever, is a pleasure to watch, sleek, skilful, well matched by Paul. Hannah Price’s production invests the duologue with subtle changes of mood and light in a piece where grief’s stranglehold is confronted and partially vanquished.
First published in Reviewsgate Feb 2015