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Edinburgh Fringe 2023

Letter to Boddah

Watershed Productions

Genre: Drama

Venue: Grand Theatre, The Space at Surgeons’ Hall


Low Down

Gripping and original drama about very modern topics; home grown terrorism and white male working class exclusion. Powerful stuff.


The entire play follows Billy and Neal in the disabled toilet at a Tesco supermarket. They are dressed in army camouflage and have a backpack containing enough explosives to blow the place up. The drama follows the last 50 minutes before they reach a decision about whether to go ahead with their explosive plan.

The two young men are grippingly played by Kyle Fisher (Billy)  and Jordan Reece (Neal) and we witness them both swing from doubt to commitment and back again multiple times as one and then the other loses and regains the immense courage they’d need if they go through with their plan to detonate their bomb, killing themselves and countless supermarket shoppers and staff.

The title comes from Kurt Cobain’s suicide note, a letter he left for his imaginary friend Boddah, where he states his belief that it is better to burn out, than fade away, a choice Billy and Neal debate and agonise over in the later stages of the play. Burning out would be achieved by the planned bombing, but serious doubts, fractures, memories and confessions from both men take them on a seesaw of thoughts and emotions, blowing hot and cold about their plan.

This is the play’s second visit to the Edinburgh Fringe after its award-winning 2019 production. The writer and director is Sarah Nelson who achieves a disturbing combination of tension, dark comic moments, dissection of working class white male anger, psychological and emotional swerving and surprises and great performances from her cast of two.

Ultimately the play portrays many topical, pertinent and important issues including observing that under-achieving white working class men feel they have few if any prospects and future and feel they can’t be helped to escape or move beyond their damaging pasts. We also witness the difficulty of dealing with rage, resentment, the brutality of capitalism and finding fulfilling sexual and fraternal relationships for this part of society. The play aims to portray the causes that drive people to extreme violence, in this case mass murder, self-destruction and attacking capitalism through bombing a local capitalist symbol. I did not believe that these two characters would go as far as to plan such an attack but that is not important. The dramatic situation allows us to witness and understand elements of the burning anger many men like these two characters live with. It offers no answers, but helps us understand some of the causes, which is a rare achievement for a piece of theatre. It also left me wondering if there are any undamaged working class men in drama these days.

The author was clearly determined to set the whole play in a disabled toilet in the final minutes before decision time. In such a naturalistic play, the dialogue needs to match the reality of that situation. At many times in the drama the two characters had conversations that are early planning discussions for such an attack, and broke my belief that these two would only now be discussing such basic notions of motivation, philosophy of why these targets should be attacked, the likely cost in human lives of detonating the device in a supermarket (this was a huge surprise to Neal … really?!) and the predicted impact on the retail sector. Thus location was given priority over reality, and information the audience needed to know but the two guys already knew, so would not need to discuss, was clunkily included. This is a common occurrence in plays that need to give us backstory but won’t go back and give us that in the dramatic present. It’s a tricky skill to write back story and maintain reality and that balance was not always achieved here. It lost us tension and truth at those moments where backstory was shoehorned in. There was also confusion over the timeline and whether Neal actually realised he might die, yet later seemed to have been committed to it all along. But these jarring moments did not stop this being an enthralling and nail-biting drama that is brave enough to portray how we ignore and cast aside young working class white men who could lead so much more productive and community-contributing, not community-damaging lives.