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Review: Harriet Walter and Guy Paul in Boa, Trafalgar Studios

Harriet Walter and Guy Paul in Boa. Production photo by Helen Murray

While James McAvoy is singing, dancing and believing he is god on the Trafalgar's main stage, Harriet Walter and her husband Guy Paul are telling a more sedate yet emotionally tense story in the studio space next door.

Boa, written by Clara Brennan who penned the fabulous Spine, tells the story of a couple who have been married for 30 years. Flitting back and forth in time we learn how they met and the trials and tribulations of their relationship through career pressures and moves to a different country. Boa (Walter) is a dancer, drunk and depressive. Louis is a Pulitzer prize winning war journalist with an appetite for danger and a dose of post traumatic shock.

The play opens with Louis visiting Boa in her dressing room after what appears to be a separation.

Their chosen professions mean they aren't an ordinary couple with everyday lives but the love, frustrations and strains within their marriage are like any other relationship. They are a fun couple to spend time with, there is obviously a deep affection between them and a relaxed and witty banter when things are going well. When tensions mount the accusations start and emotional daggers are drawn.

It is all engaging enough and entertaining to watch but you can't help but wonder where it is all leading to and that is what makes this play in the end. It packs such an emotional punch that for the second time I found myself sat in Trafalgar Studios 2 struggling to fight back tears and not really succeeding.

In the cold light of day it does feel like a slightly long lead up to that point but you do get to see two fantastic performances, well four really as Walters and Paul switch in a blink from their character's older to younger selves and back again. Knowing they are married in real life makes this feel just ever so slightly voyeuristic and raises all sorts of thoughts about the process of shaping Boa and Louis in rehearsal and how it must feel to perform. I wonder how different it would feel to watch with just two actors who aren't married?

I love Clara Brennan's writing, this isn't quite Spine - which made it into my top 10 last year but it will be remembered for the casting and how it made me cry. You can catch it at Trafalgar Studios until March 7. It is an hour and 25 minutes without interval.


Harriet Walter was in Atonement with James McAvoy (and I like to think of them hanging out back stage at the Trafalgar while they are both in productions there) and Mr W was in a photo shoot with J-Mc for a rising stars piece many years ago. And here's a link just in case you haven't seen it before.