Put your money where your mouth is: on Killymuck & Box Clever at Bunker Theatre
I've just seen Killymuck by Kat Woods followed by Monsay Whitney's Box Clever and I'm fucking furious. I walked out of the theatre and stormed 15 minutes up the road just saying 'fuck’ over and over again.
First, it's the content. Poverty. Violence. Pain. Vulnerability. Every grating facet of what it means to live life as a have not. Each element, thrown at the audience the way Muhammad Ali would throw a punch, floating lightly on loveable characters and solid one-liners before POW — a bee sting. Right in the heart. Then the stomach. Then head. Then heart again.
Caitriona Shoobridge and Stef O'Driscol’s direction is relentless and the curation of the two plays is masterful. They're different, certainly, but they complement one another, providing mutual context and remaining unapologetically in direct conversation with us, the audience. Aofie Lennon of Killymuck is childlike and hopeful, while Box Clever's Redd Lily Roche is wearied and hyper-intelligent. They're both scrappy, loud and sweary, My god do they swear.
‘Fuck’ I keep thinking as I get on the train home. Fuck.
The two monologues are delivered within the confines of standing stick lights designed by Joe Price. My first association is with a cell, but I can't settle on that — a cell requires passivity and suggests a solution, a timed stay in one particular place. That's not a luxury these women have. They're not in a cell, they're in a boxing ring fighting for their right to live — bloodied, in pain, damaged. There's every chance they could die in there. Every chance.
This is what it feels like to see something speak truth to power.
There's a rareness to the experience — the night’s been packaged up and delivered by Chris Sonnex and team with something scarce in theatre at the moment: ethics. I'm given the programme, which shares phone numbers I can call if I feel affected. At once I feel like I’m in a safe space. I appreciate the acknowledgement that any of us could need to talk about housing or mental health or domestic abuse because none of what we're seeing happens in a vacuum -- it's in the fabric of austerity-driven society. There's also info on charities to donate to and how to write to MP's. There is intention here. There is a purpose.
By the end my heart's pumping, my eyes hurt and my chests aches. I look around to see if I can make out whether other audience members are sharing my experience, and I realise there's only one other person on my row. Fuck. Fucksake.
There was only one preconception I had before coming tonight and it was informed by Chris Sonnex’s tweet: "Apparently a fair amount of reviewers don’t want to review #killymuck & #boxclever because they’ve seen them before. First off, how many times in your life have you reviewed flipping Macbeth in your careers."
I think of this as I look at that empty row and my rage reaches its apex. Chris is bang on the money.
He writes later "I’m not bashing reviewers or indeed taking anything away from that particular art form". I appreciate him for being respectful but you know what? I am going to bash reviewers.
Reviewers, you have a responsibility to see the work that's out there. If you're too thinly spread then your publications have a responsibility to hire more reviewers for more work. It's their literal job. If you can't make press night, try to go on a different day. That show at the West End you prioritized can cope with one less round of applause, but using your voice to platform work like tonight's could have a huge impact on how a show sells. That has a knock-on effect on how a message could be received, how an audience could be motivated and how our society could be better.
And as for the audience. Well. Every time Black, Brown or Minority ethnic artists make work about their communities someone will respond with, "what about the white working classes? No one's talking about them." And yet here we are, two plays taking place in an accessible central London location with white female leads who both identify as on benefits or working class, delivering work which deals bluntly with the agony of the class system. n. So my furious question is this: why isn't it packed?
If you're going to weaponize the plight of the white working classes against creatives outside that bracket then you better make sure you turn up when that community requires your support. If a million people could get up and march against Brexit last weekend then why on earth is the front row of this theatre empty? As Marnie says loudly in Box Clever "Marching against the pay gap don’t exempt you from being a cunt".