Boi Boi is Dead: Jazz, death and legacy at the West Yorkshire Playhouse

Andrew Anderson

A theatre premiere that balances live music with a story that has love, loyalty and avarice at its heart.

One complaint levelled against major theatres is that they are exclusive, elitist, and rarely enlist the talents – or tell the stories – of anyone outside the white establishment. How good it is, then, to see a production such as Boi Boi is Dead being chosen to open the new season at the West Yorkshire Playhouse. “It’s a great opportunity for a Leeds-based writer who is amazing,” says director Lucian Msamati, perhaps best known for his acting roles in The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency and Game of Thrones. “I think it’s poetic, refreshing and a very different way to start the year.”

The story, from Zimbabwe-born and Leeds-based writer Zodwa Nyoni, is an enticing one, dealing with the aftermath of the death of Afro-jazz legend, Boi Boi. His loved and not-so-loved ones lock horns over his legacy, for reasons both artistic and selfish, all in the shadow of his enigmatic presence.

The writing, setting and live music mark this play out as different

Another distinctive element is the production’s soundtrack, with Jack Benjamin in the lead role of Boi Boi creating the Afro-jazz accompaniment on trumpet. “It’s been exciting to incorporate it organically into the story,” says Msamati, who adds that balancing the acting and aural sides of Benjamin’s performance has been the biggest challenge for him as director. But while the writing, setting and music mark Boi Boi is Dead out as different, at its heart are the same things that all good plays have in common: a human story, told honestly and eloquently. Msamati concurs: “I am looking forward to the audiences seeing something very familiar but done, hopefully, in a different and refreshing way.”

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