Over the years, the ‘conversation’ regarding the absence of the working class on stage (both in terms of actors and narratives) appears periodically. The same could be said for playwrights, but the likes of Andrea Dunbar at the Royal Court Theatre are extremely rare indeed… Currently at The Bunker, there’s a double bill of plays running, highlighting those who are most vulnerable at the bottom strata of society. Box Clever – which is written by Monsay Whitney and directed by Stef O’Driscoll – looks at one woman’s frustration with the State for not taking appropriate action when she and her child are at their most vulnerable.
Redd Lily Roche plays Marnie, a single mother who is living a women’s refuge. Her care worker is ‘FiFi’ and while the refuge is meant to be a place of calm and safety, the reality is very different.
Marnie is a complex, ‘flawed’ character and as such, we see how bad choices and being ‘economical with the truth’ has grave ramifications. It’s important to note this, as we see later on how her rationale – which no one else understands – and her complex history becomes a ‘liability’.
Roche’s Marnie is only too aware of her shortcomings and unapologetic about her choices or when she craves a drink (but doesn’t). Most things in her life can be traced back to messy relationships and former boyfriends. But instead of having ‘closure’ and a clean break from the past, these relationships are put on ‘hiatus’ when the boyfriends are in prison or temporarily seeing another woman. In the ‘tick box’ culture of the benefits system, Marnie’s ‘messy’ life is used against her as ammunition.
It is, however, at the refuge that we see how grim it is for anyone living in such places. Vermin is spotted there by Marnie and Autumn, but their observations are downplayed by members of staff. And while everyone at the refuge is supposed to abide by ‘rules’, in practice they’re seldom observed. Altercations with other mothers occur and then there are the dangers from maladjusted chhidren living there…
While all of this may seem unrelentingly grim, Whitney’s black humour takes the edge off Marnie’s tribulations, which all occur in the month of September. Marnie’s tendency to ‘act’ rather than ‘think’ helps her to function and she’s never short of a cheeky word to say. However, each day for her brings its own set of worries.
Exhibiting repeated negligence, social services try to cover their tracks. And because of Marnie’s ‘less-than-spotless’ past, her own testimony is thrown into doubt – including by the police. Small wonder this all takes its toll on one’s mental health – though a ‘breakdown’ would guarantee social services taking her child from her. Who can she turn to in her hour of need..?
© Michael Davis 2019
Box Clever runs at The Bunker (53a Southwark Street, London SE1 1RU) as part of a double bill with Killymuck until 13th April.