Playing as part of a double bill with Killymuck at The Bunker Theatre, Monsay Whitney’s Box Clever, directed by Stef O’Driscoll builds on the theme of inequality, building up to a devastating commentary on how society treats the most vulnerable of its members.
Box Clever begins almost as a dark comedy, it’s an important factor in helping the audience understand the character of Marnie. We see immediately she’s not perfect, she describes the people around her in the most unflattering of terms, with the populace of South London taking the brunt of her profanity laden monologue. Her drug taking, and the habit of dating men who end behind bars, means she’s made mistakes and much of the situation she finds herself in is of her own making.
But as the laughs subside, we find out Marnie is in a refuge, escaping an abusive relationship while trying to care for her four-year-old daughter, Autumn. She’s not to blame for what’s happening now, and she isn’t in control of what happens next.
That turn from viciously funny comedy to serious drama comes unexpectedly, like a gut-punch that tears through the audience, ripping our pre-conceptions to pieces in a sea of horror stricken gasps. The later portion of the play is in complete contrast to the earlier levity, we are pulled in to Marnie’s torment and cannot let go, no matter how desperately we might want to.
Whitney’s writing is some of the finest you will see on stage, exploding with a raw and brutal honesty that doesn’t just compel you to dive deeper in to the story, but will unleash an anger within you that is difficult to quell. To write a play that turns the tables so quickly doesn’t just take skill, it requires a deep understanding of both the topic and the audience, and Box Clever achieves both.
Redd Lily Roche takes on the role of Marnie, as well as the various characters who are shaping Marnie’s life, it’s a finely accomplished performance, driving forward the narrative at an unrelenting pace.
It’s not unusual to find a piece of theatre which stirs an emotional response, but with Box Clever it is impossible not to find yourself intoxicated by the heady mixture of exceptional writing and outstanding performance. They combine to create a play of such vital importance it will leave you shook for days.