BOOTS is a tender and ultimately fulfilling play about inter-generational bonding – a bringing together of two somewhat lost souls through mother nature. Women, both victims of their pretty awful pasts, who have never been able to unburden themselves of the damage caused to them by a combination of vile men and domineering patriarchy.
Willow (a super Tanya Loretta Dee) is a pharmacist who is chippy and lacks self-respect. She spends most of her working life counting out pills or dealing with some awful customers. Remedies for cystitis, thrush and emergency birth control are meat and drink to Willow.
Liz (a marvellously doddery and bombastic Amanda Boxer) is an elderly customer who comes in looking for an assortment of incontinence pads, Tampax (not used conventionally) and pills for sleeping and supressing depression. She’s feisty, has no dress sense whatsoever, and cares for husband Jeremy who has Parkinson’s. Her use of industrial language has no bounds.
Slowly, and not without occasional hiccups, Willow and Liz bond. We also begin to learn more about the shocking back stories of these two unlikely allies. Liz, whose first child was a blue baby, was a dutiful mother and wife, but literally sacrificed herself at the altar of her husband. Sometimes awfully so. Marital rape?
She’s not without humour. ‘What would my life have been like with more Jonnies [condoms]?’ she reflects at one stage, revealing how supressed she was by marriage. She hates retirement although she smiles when harking back to her last sexual encounter five years ago with a carer – an actor who had a ‘large part’. ‘I reminded him of Helen Mirren,’ she laughs. In her more reflective moments she visits the local wood and has a cigarette or four.
Willow’s past is also dark, stemming from an awful experience at age eight with an older (step) brother. The incident was life changing and sits inside her like a rumbling volcano. Apart from her pharmacy work, she’s also writing a book on the medicinal properties of trees.
The local wood’s future, jeopardised by a development proposed by the company Willow works for (yes, Boots), is the final connection in the Liz-Willow axis. An intertwining of their roots. It allows both women to unburden themselves of their pasts that have hung around their necks like heavy millstones. To feel both liberated and through conversation healed.
Boots is a fine piece of writing from Sacha Voit and Jessica Butcher. Expertly directed by Nadia Papachronopoulou and nicely staged by Ali Graham, it is a play for our time and of our time. It questions the stifling impact of male domination and conventions long outdated while emphasising the importance of friendship (irrespective of age), kindness and the beautiful world we are slowly destroying.
Title photo by Tim Kelly. Lighting by Jack Weir. Set design by Lia Waber