Before Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain committed suicide, he wrote a letter to Boddha, his imaginary friend. In it he famously quoted Neil Young, writing “it’s better to “burn out, than fade away”. Letter to Boddah’s Billy (Kyle Fisher) and Neil (Jordan Reece) can relate. They want to burn out. Albeit not by leaving a legacy of zeitgeist-capturing classics but by blowing up their local Tesco.
Returning to the Fringe after its award-winning 2019 run, writer and director Sarah Nelson’s play is at once tense, hilarious, thoughtful and jolting.
With the two men locked in the supermarket’s disabled toilets, they are initially committed to their cause. But, holed up in such a confined space, the adrenaline that’s pumping begins to turn to anxiety and fear. They discuss their bond, their toxic relationships with their fathers, and the hopes they once had for their lives. They reveal their thoughts and their secrets. Sometimes with hilarious effect, sometimes tragic.
As the dynamics frequently shapeshift, the play veers between ‘will they?/won’t they?’ to ‘who will?/what will they do?’
Reprising his role from the previous run, Reece gives a powerhouse performance, here. By turns thuggish, sweet, reflective and aggressive, he also displays remarkable comic timing. Delivered by a lesser tongue, lines such as, “I ain’t dying on steak and kidney pudding night” could have reduced this to a parody of Northern masculinity, and his character of Neil the Bez to Billy’s Cobain. But he navigates his flip-flopping role of follower and perpetrator dexterously, never missing a note.
In, arguably, the driving but less obviously showier role, Fisher matches him with a turn of intensity, but one which also allows him to showcase a gift for nuance.
If there’s a jarring note, here, it’s that the link between the trauma of what the two men have experienced and the leap to such extremism isn’t as drawn as it could be. But as the boys themselves question how they’ve got to this place, perhaps we’re meant to, also.
Tightly scripted and moving along at a brisk pace, Letter of Boddah works as both great theatre and a provocative piece of polemic.
Burning Brightly – ★★★★★ 5 stars