Thursday 12 February 2015

Theatre Review: Boa (Trafalgar Studios)

Harriet Walter and Guy Paul in Boa (Photo: Helen Murray)
Having debuted in a reading at last year’s HighTide Festival, Clara Brennan’s two-hander Boa now gets its world premiere production in the intimate confines of Trafalgar Studios 2. The play’s focus is a “transatlantic” relationship, and its title refers not only to the variously comforting and constraining ties of love (both feather boa and boa constrictor) but also to the name of its heroine.
Boa (originally Belinda), an English dancer, meets Louis, an American war journo, and the pair fall in love.  Moving between present and past periods, the play charts the couple’s history through work-enforced separations, drinking problems, moves, disputes and reconciliations over about 30 years.
Hannah Price’s spare, prop-free production is given an added element of interest thanks to its casting: the fact that a real-life transatlantic couple, Harriet Walter and Guy Paul, are taking on the roles of Boa and Louis here. With their matching faces and physiques, Walter and Paul are a striking pair, and both work hard to give the play some moments of truth and honesty. At times they succeed, capturing with wit the changing rhythms of a relationship and negotiating with dexterity some swift shifts between emotional states.
The play is actually at its best when at its least straining and confrontational: the couple’s debates about conscience and “liberal guilt” (“Do you think I find genocide erotic?” wonders Boa, bewilderingly, at one point) strike false notes. But when the pair suddenly launch into the singing of a silly song together, they’re perfectly charming and believable.
Unfortunately, though, Brennan’s writing is an odd mixture of the merely crude (“I love the piss and shit of you”) and the clunkily “poetic” (“You’re still bleeding into me with the beautiful force of … blood”), while the play’s form results in way too much editorialising by the characters in which we get told more about their relationship than we’re actually shown. There’s also some weirdly unpleasant recourse to gender stereotypes underpinning the characterisation, with Louis’s rationality and repression pitted against Boa’s creativity, neurasthenia and tendency towards, um, emotional “spillage.”
All that being said, Price’s production is clear and fluid, with Dave Price’s sound design and Malcolm Rippeth’s lighting helping to keep the viewer orientated during the production’s moves between time periods.  Still, the patchy writing of the piece means that, despite the actors’ best efforts, these scenes from a marriage only intermittently resonate.
Booking until 7th March.
Originally reviewed for The Public Reviews.

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