Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Review: 'Box Clever' & 'Killymuck' at The Bunker Theatre, 2nd April 2019

Reviewed by David James
Box Clever: 4 Stars
Killymuck: 4 Stars

The Conservative Party are the biggest destructive force the United Kingdom has faced since the Luftwaffe. Forget the occasional bombing, overseas military threat or predatory superpower. Their true evil is that every second they've been in power since 1979, they've been gradually making life worse for the vast majority of people by funnelling public money into their (and their public school chums') bank accounts.

The British Medical Journal estimates that their austerity politics has been directly linked to 120,000 deaths since 2010 that would not have otherwise occurred since 2010, with those casualties disproportionately occuring amongst the poorest in society. Now David Cameron's brilliant idea to have a Brexit referendum has left us teetering on the edge of economic collapse, and you can bet that those who'll die because of it won't be Old Etonians.

The consequences of Conservative ideology are keenly felt in this double-bill of plays written, directed and performed by women. Though geographically and temporally separated, both take an unflinching look at what a vote for the Tories causes.

First up is Box Clever, written by Monsay Whitney, directed by Stef O'Driscoll and performed by Redd Lily Roche. This tells an intensely frustrating and moving tale of a mother caught in a byzantine web of support structures. Marnie lives in a woman's refuge and is doing her best for her four-year-old daughter Autumn: abusive and violent men circle her like sharks around a wounded dolphin and the government and charitable services theoretically designed to save her from her misery are fragmented, under-funded and don't communicate with one another.

Whitney gradually zeroes in on the classism that ruins Marnie's life. The managers of the refuge, the don't-give-a-fuck council housing officers and the sceptical police officers hear her south London accent and instantly drop her down to the bottom of the credibility ladder. As Marnie is continually ignored, sidelined and condescended to, her and our anger reaches boiling point. 

I've worked in the court system for over a decade (including spells in the Family Court) and Marnie's situation is sadly all too familiar. It's also all too easy to predict what's going to happen to her: the stress of the situation will exacerbate her depression, resulting in a downward spiral that will probably see her child taken into care. What really sticks in the throat is that this misery was never inevitable: if public services hadn't been cut to the bone Marnie's life wouldn't be collapsing around her ears

This is a raw and visceral piece of theatre and Lily Roche's performance is mindblowing (and clearly emotionally taxing). Perhaps the ending is a bit abrupt and leaves things unresolved, but showing how things are going to go for Marnie from this point on is going to be like rubbing salt into the wound. Box Clever isn't exactly entertaining in a traditional sense, but I can think of many civil servants for which this play should be mandatory viewing.

Killymuck takes a different approach to social deprivation. Written by Kat Woods, directed by Caitriona Shoobridge and played by Aoife Lennon, the play shows us the childhood of Niamh as she grows up on a maligned housing estate over the 80s and 90s. Kicking off with a quote from Margaret Thatcher, we learn about the Killymuck estate, described as a cursed area where society sends all its misfits and down-and-outs.

Though this is ultimately as depressing a story as Box Clever, Lennon infuses her character with bouncy and charismatic energy, pinballing around the stage as she neatly conveys childish enthusiasm. As we proceed through her life, we see how this smart and talented child is gradually ground to dust by underfunded schools, classist teachers and government that couldn't give a solitary shit about estate girls like her.

Killymuck isn't afraid of spelling out its message. Throughout the show, Lennon breaks character to back up the play's argument with statistics, for example explaining how a pupil's economic background has a drastic impact on their exam results. If Box Clever was a person reaching breaking point over a very bad month, Killymuck is like straw gradually being piled onto a camel's back. As Aoife grows up she internalises what her environment and society is yelling at her: you are scum, you have no future and you will fail.

It's an excellent piece of writing and beautifully performed. The only fly in the ointment is that there's a very repetitive backing track playing throughout the piece. I get that this helps keep the show to a rhythm, but there were times I wish they'd have given it a rest. Also, purely for reasons of temporal neatness, I think Killymuck would work better before Box Clever, as we'd see the immediate and long-term effects of Thatcherite politics in order.

These two plays honestly and plainly depict the direct results of putting the Conservative Party in power. You should come out of these shows with a burning desire to prevent any Tory politician from ever seeing a glimpse of office so long as they live. At this stage in our politics, with so many historic and current examples of greed, stupidity, sadism and corruption, anyone who votes for, supports or is a member of the Conservative Party has crossed a moral event horizon.

Stories like Marnie's and Aoife's are why we need a Jeremy Corbyn led Labour government now. From the way things are going that's what we'll have very soon - let's just hope there's enough of the country left to save after the Tories are done fucking it.

Box Clever & Killymuck are at The Bunker Theatre until 13 April.

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