Fresh from critical acclaim as Henry IV at the Donmar Warehouse, Dame Harriet Walter takes to the stage in this two man production of Clara Brennan’s new play Boa. She stars in the production alongside her real life husband, American actor Guy Paul.
Hannah Price directs this new work in the intimate setting at the Trafalgar studios- an appropriate space to explore the intimacy between onstage married couple Boa and Louis.
Boa has become a nickname for Belinda (Walter), given to her by her husband Louis (Paul). The name is intended to symbolise ‘a big old snake squeezing the life out of you’ yet also the gentle feathers and embrace of a feather boa, a fitting tribute to their marriage.
Thirty years have passed since she and Louis first met and over the course of this 85-minute dissection of their tender, yet choppy, marriage, we see the ups of downs of their relationship. The audience observes these sequences through snap shots into their past, seamlessly flicking from played out old memories to the present day through a click of lighting and a sound cue.
Louis is a young Pulitzer Prize winner and an adventurer, taking pride in a kayak on his childhood bedroom wall. Belinda is a successful British dancer full of intensity and fire, impulsively following her floppy haired ‘Smug Yankee’ to his Dad’s funeral in the hope they’ll passionately get together. Through the many years of a transatlantic relationship Louis has become a successful news reporter, always away witnessing pain and suffering in other worlds to numb his own from the loss of his parents. Boa meanwhile stays at home, unable to dance due to an injury, drinking away her pain and loneliness. She’s a ‘spiller’- pouring out her emotions and vulnerabilities- where he is a closed box- keeping everything locked inside- but they cling on and need each other. ‘You saved me with strangles of love,’ Louis tells her. Yet while having come to Boa’s rescue, in the end she manages to save herself swapping one bar for another barre.
Walter plays Boa with great intensity and rawness, her on-stage chemistry with Paul’s Louis (who is reminiscent of Robert Redford in ‘Up Close and Personal’) is magnetic. He is the grounding figure in Boa’s all-consuming world of low self-esteem and erratic outbursts, but his rooted presence becomes ever more poignant as the performance concludes.
Brenan’s writing is beautifully honest yet at times a little over-explained and perhaps if we were to experience more of the ‘special connection’ ourselves, then the intensity of the pivotal moments would be heightened, allowing us to be fully enveloped in the heart-wrenching emotions that come. But in times of despair there is fantastic wit throughout, brought to life through the onstage rapport between Walter and Paul, which injects lighter moments in scenes of her self-consuming depression.
Boa is a beautiful depiction of the 30-year marriage of two people. It is an honest and tender portrayal that really see’s Harriet Walter and Guy Paul shine. It’s a pairing that was made for the stage and a joy to watch.
Reviewed by Becky Usher
Boa runs until 7 March at the Trafalgar Studios.