This is a fine production of an extraordinary play. Letter to Boddah* received lots of five-star reviews and, after being selected from more than 1,000 productions, won Best Theatre at the Fringe at the Edinburgh Festival 2019. If it hadn’t been for COVID-19, you would certainly have heard of it by now.
Two young white men go into a disabled toilet in Tesco and change into army fatigues because they’re going to blow the shop, and themselves, up. While they wait for the opportune moment, they talk. They talk about their lives, their friends, their mums and especially their dads. This may not sound like much, but writer Sarah Nelson understands these disaffected young men so well, and has such command of her craft, that you’re in for a rollercoaster hour filled with hilarious, dark and sometimes deeply poignant conversation. By the end, something inside of you will have shifted.
Tom Gibbons plays Billy, the leader, with a quiet determination that masks a deep insecurity, which we only glimpse in flashes until the end. Dean Smith gives Neil, the follower, questions rather than answers, probably to hide his guilty secret. These are two extremely experienced young actors. You may know Gibbons from The Archers, where he plays Johnny, Pat and Tony’s grandson. Smith was in Waterloo Road and plays William in the wonderful Last Tango in Halifax. This experience is evident in the fine acting here.
I first saw Letter to Boddah in a workshop performance at Hope Mill Theatre in 2017 and, even then, I thought that the play was fit for the Royal Court in London. Contemporary work can age so quickly, so I wondered if it would survive COVID-19. But the show has come back more resonant than ever. It’s only getting a short outing at Ilkley Playhouse**. But, based on this performance, I’m sure it will be back and soon be showing at a venue near you.
I see a lot of theatre shows and most of the time I leave thinking ‘Is that all they could find to put on?’. We are living through one of the most significant moments in history and, while I understand that theatres have seats to fill and audiences to please, even if only with a school set text, it’s a great relief to find a piece of work that challenges so exactly the way we live now. Go and see it as soon as you can.
By Chris Wallis, Theatre Editor
All images courtesy of Ilkley Playhouse.
*In case you’re wondering, the title comes from the name of Kurt Cobain’s imaginary friend, to whom he addressed his suicide note.
** Ilkley Playhouse is owned and run by an amateur theatre company. I didn’t see the main auditorium, but the studio is as good as many you will find in a major theatre. It seats about 120 and can be configured in all sorts of ways. I can think of lots of small and medium-scale companies which would love it.