BOA Trafalgar 2, SW1


There is no snake. It’s a nickname for “Belinda”, the female half of Clara Brennan’s new two-hander, a 90-minute portrait of an 30-year marriage between a dancer and a war correspondent. On the other hand, who needs snakes? if it is wraparound snakelike, hypnotic fascination and occasional constriction of the chest that you want, there is Dame Harriet Walter. As her stage (and indeed real-life) husband observes in one memorable line, her arm around his shoulders “sometimes felt like a feather boa, and sometimes it felt like a big old snake squeezing the life out of you”.

Harriet Walter does boa-intensity like no other. Her androgyne performances as Brutus and as Bolingbroke at the Donmar showed us that, and here that Aztec severity of demeanour and restless explosive energy comes in female form: she paces round in black palazzo pants and filmy stole as we take our seats, a caged panther on the prowl. Boa is an exponent of the “deep internal wisdom” of the body and creates pieces with titles like Blood And Honey, expressing news-bulletin horrors or the plight of migrant workers. With a snarl of “I don’t have time for people who snarl at liberal guilt” she puts down her patient man – Louis the journalist, played by Guy Paul on his London debut. In a nice echo of the current Stoppard at the NT she challenges him with “all these years and you still think the mind is in the brain!”. Hers is in every sinuous angry sensual limb.

Easy to see why Walter and Paul chose this breathless piece: it’s a gift to a well-attuned pair, as flashbacks through Boa and Louis’ years together show courtship, argument, anxiety, conflict. He is the kind of war correspondent who comes home and wants to “put it in a box”, she a wife who won’t let him, says things like “my therapist says you need a therapist”, and gradually despairs of her own ageing, drinks disastrously heavily, demands a baby when she is least fit to have one, and takes to ceramics (a very funny moment – there are some – as the pair seem to gaze in baffled horror at her latest creation). He, battered and damaged by the horrors he has seen, is no easy number either.

It keeps moving – Hannah Price directs – and the performances are honest and solid enough to make you feel (not always with pleasure) that you have been stuck in a caravan in the rain with Louis and Boa for a week. Possibly it would engage more fiercely at 75 minutes: it’s a very particular marriage, not easy to universalise. Yet that in a way is its strength. And when it becomes clear how this marriage ended, and what the survivor’s duty is, there is cathartic inspiration offered.

And you won’t see two more ferociously focused actors at work, close up, anywhere on the London stage.

box office 0844 871 7632 to 7 March

Rating: three 3 Meece Rating


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