Boots playwrights: ‘We show women who can say: Do you know what? I don’t know!’

PUBLISHED: 18:09 28 March 2018 | UPDATED: 18:09 28 March 2018

Illona Linthwaite as Liz and Tanya Loretta Dee as Willow in Boots

Illona Linthwaite as Liz and Tanya Loretta Dee as Willow in Boots


New play Boots follows two women’s effect on each other’s lives. Zoe Paskett talks to playwrights Jessica Butcher from Clapton and Sacha Voit from Camden and actor Illona Linthwaite

Tanya Loretta Dee as Willow in BootsTanya Loretta Dee as Willow in Boots

Two women with two different lives: One, a young pharmacist struggling to write a book about trees, the other, a middle class woman in her 70s struggling to deal with apain born of a life she shouldn’t have had.

The audience at Boots’ first outing at Vault Festival this month is enraptured from the start. By the end, they’re in tears.

Boots, co-written by Jessica Butcher and Sacha Voit (from Clapton and Camden respectively), is an exploration of friendship and loneliness, of finding common ground with people so completely different from you, of trauma, acceptance and healing.

Essentially, it is about silence. It’s one of the most talked about issues of the time. A shift is happening, and people who have been quiet are beginning to find their voices.

Illona Linthwaite as Liz in BootsIllona Linthwaite as Liz in Boots

“We did write this play coming up from the #MeToo movement,” says Voit, “because the play is about breaking the silence and these are two women that are silencing their internal voices to perform an acceptable version of femininity on the top.”

The two women, Willow and Liz (played by Tanya Loretta Dee and Illona Linthwaite), meet at the pharmacy counter in Boots when Liz applauds Willow’s tirade against a misogynistic customer. The poignant friendship that develops throughout the play centres on their differing approaches and emotional responses to the issues they face in their lives. They are nuanced characters, who have impacts on each other in ways that neither could have expected.

“I think it’s not so far beneath the surface, this desire to express themselves,” says Linthwaite, who plays Liz. “It’s only a reticence, a fear of maybe getting it wrong and being made a fool of that holds it back.

“I’m fascinated by the thought and knowledge that most of us live in a kind of bubble and sometimes don’t know how to get out of it. We have to prick that bubble and then everything is there for you. I think some people are behind a barrier for a long time in their lives.”

From the audience, there is a palpable response – there’s a huge amount of emotional heft behind Boots and a fondness for the characters manifests almost instantly. While Butcher and Voit are still developing their characters – this is the play’s first outing to an audience, and a shorter version of what the final product will be – Liz and Willow’s affection (and frustration) towards each other is true.

“I suppose it’s like falling in love,” Linthwaite says. “There’s a recognition there. I think she just recognises somebody who is in a similar place, but everything else about her is entirely different. There’s something, a little thread.”

In Boots, Butcher and Voit have created two characters that feel like real women, rather than two-dimensional representations of what people want women to be.

“I have come across this realisation that a lot of female characters are written in binary,” says Butcher. “Inside they’re this and on the outside they’re this, but actually in both of them there are a multitude of feelings and emotions.

“I’ve laughed at a few men saying to me: ‘The stuff when they’re talking about their feelings, do we need to know that?’ Let me just think about every Shakespeare play ever written with all the men in it talking about what they’re feeling. ‘To be or not to f***ing be.’

“We show women who can say: Do you know what? I don’t know! I’m saying something and then worrying about it and then being able to say sorry and then not knowing if you said sorry properly and then wanting to make amends. All the ways that people move, particularly women, are really interesting to me. And that’s the thing that people have really responded to in the play.”

Butcher and Voit are working on the next steps are for Boots, adding and tweaking more, but you can be sure that Willow and Liz will return.

“I’ve always wanted to write since I was a little five year old and I think I can say the same for [Voit]. To finally have the space to be able to do it feels like magic.”

Follow the progress at @BootsThePlay on Twitter.

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