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BOOT by Eliza Williams at The Lion & Unicorn Theatre

Eliza Williams’ concise one-act comedy of menace feels almost like a diss track answering back to Harold Pinter’s Betrayal – but the acoustic demo version that hasn’t fully been realised.

BOOT - Image by Matt Hunter
BOOT – Image by Matt Hunter

In an age in which The Tinder Swindler and Inventing Anna feed our fears of the long con in a climate of digitally enacted social posturing and the loneliness of isolation, Boot lures us to the heart of the nightmare whilst offering a twisted buddy story of redemption. At the perimeters of its ambition, think Thelma & Louise meets The Caretaker. Williams (Karen) delivers a commanding and convincing performance of someone unhinged but with good reason. As a meditation on crazy-making relationships, Williams – both as writer and actor – illuminates startling and uncomfortable truths. However, this play hasn’t yet fully told its story.

It’s clear that Williams intends us to appraise Emma (Kate O’Rourke) through a lens of casual contempt. Her ‘husband, two kids, a semi with a conservatory, a pug and the full use of the PTA’s Costco card’ are offered as the facile summation of all she is – at least in Karen’s eyes. Anyone who seems to have comfort, security and marital satisfaction is to be envied and therefore mocked; especially when depicted as an inauthentic façade. Yet, Emma projects these trappings from a darker and sadder truth. As study sketches, both Emma and Karen have strong features to develop, but the emotional journey we are expected to believe they take is rushed in the writing. O’Rourke nonetheless shows range and nuance even if her path is somewhat truncated.

Director Deirdre Daly experiments with the occasional absurdist theatrical flourish amongst what is essentially a naturalistic staging. The script nods at times to melodrama and horror which provides both tension and laughter. Daly has chosen however, in the main, not to underpin these tropes with such conventionally associated stage devices as underscore or dramatic lighting (designed by Alex Garfarth) until the final scenes. Daly employs a disembodied recorded inner monologue to serve as a time-lapse montage – presumably indicating that over the course of the evening Emma understands Karen and changes as a result. But this feels a bit of a cheat. The central dramatic moment must be when lies told to oneself are revealed and provoke action as a changed person. Williams owes the play around another 20 pages of script to take us on this transformation rather than speed up the clock with a visual effect.

Of course, Boot is a 60-minute two-hander staged upstairs at a pub. Its production values are perfectly adequate but don’t feel as deliberate as they might be should the director want the audience to feel profoundly, as well as witness, emotionally-cornered and compromised characters accepting and enacting the unthinkable. Nonetheless, Williams has a gift for hitting nerves of all types with truthful observations – be they hilarious or heartbreaking. As a glimpse at talent taking risks and exploring psychodrama and society, Boot reveals the exciting promise of more to come from Eliza Williams even if questions remained unanswered within this production.

4 stars

Review by Mary Beer

Emma is 40, she has a husband, two kids, a semi with a conservatory, a pug and full use of the PTA’s Costco card.

Karen is also 40, she has a reluctant fiancé of 20 years who refuses to commit, a hunger for the truth, a half-baked plan and a Vauxhall Zafira.

One of them thinks she’s at a school reunion. The other knows she’s not.

Boot is a manipulative, helter-skelter of a dark comedy that will have you questioning your own morals. What happens when things go too far… and there’s no way back?

WRITTEN BY: Eliza Williams
DIRECTED BY: Deirdre Daly
RUNNING TIME: 60 Mins (No Interval)

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  • Mary Beer

    Mary graduated with a cum laude degree in Theatre from Columbia University’s Barnard College in New York City. In addition to directing and stage managing several productions off-Broadway, Mary was awarded the Helen Prince Memorial Prize in Dramatic Composition for her play Subway Fare whilst in New York. Relocating to London, Mary has worked in the creative sector, mostly in television broadcast and production, since 1998. Her creative and strategic abilities in TV promotion, marketing and design have been recognised with over 20 industry awards including several Global Promax Golds. She is a founder member of multiple creative industry and arts organisations and has frequently served as an advisor to the Edinburgh International TV Festival.

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