On Monday 7 and Tuesday 8 May, The Feminist Society of St Andrews put on ‘Box Clever’, a play that was essentially a one-woman monologue with the support of regular entrances complementing the dialogues.
The play, which was written by Monsay Whitney and debuted last summer at the 2017 Edinburgh Fringe Festival, provided a poignant and sadly accurate insight into the Kafkaesque struggles of a helpless single mother. Diminished by a bureaucratic system, she was a modern-day Josef(ine) K. It was a great choice of a play to put on, a ‘passion project’ of director Hannah Ayesha Ritchie, who aimed to evoke as much empathy in her audience as possible.
In the leading role, Georgia Luckhurst delivered a captivating portrayal of a young single mother, struggling to make ends meet at a women’s refuge while her past abusive relationships continue to haunt her. She carried the play on her shoulders with a consistently energetic, compelling performance. At times I was stunned by her ability to immerse herself in this difficult case and her convincing performance. At the same time, her approach to the character was at times slightly one-sided, as she said almost everything as an exclamation, making it hard to distinguish between everyday grievances and life changing tragedies, catch the irony or at times even hard to make out what she was saying. Her rightful anger and distress sometimes disappeared in this constant and monotone yelling. As the play progressed, this changed and infused the performance with additional layers of humour and drama. By the last (and most terrible) turn of events she was able to convey the depth and horror of the situation forcefully. Overall she gave a good dramatic performance, and a very mature one. The whole cast was altogether very impressive – as I didn’t know what level of acting professionalism to expect, I was delighted and captivated. Sarah Chamberlain particularly stood out, she was superb as Gillian/Veronica/Red-Faced Posh.
The play begun with an almost dance-like routine in the dark, which was a little obscure but nicely choreographed and dynamic, and this stylistically continued with every intermission, connecting consecutive episodes with a couple seconds of suspenseful but upbeat music and dimmed pink lights that gave an ease and charm contrasting the tense and hopeless atmosphere.
Throughout the play, a bitter self-irony accompanied the presentation of Marnie’s different hardships. Essentially, they were the turbulent dynamics of a women’s refuge, a listing of all previous relationships where she had been abused or mistreated, the pain that led to her current situation and state of mind, as well as her struggles to be a capable parent to her four-year-old in spite of her circumstances. Everything in this play was something that The Feminist Society is commended to raise awareness of: a young woman’s dependency, hopelessness, lack of power to fight abuse, and being trampled by a system that doesn’t care to understand or respect her. It is absurd how unjust and uncaring this bureaucracy is, and while it may seem nonsensical, the viewer knows it is real and it is awfully scary how unprotected a single mother can be in it.
The play was altogether quite enjoyable, the minimalistic props and the costumes were on point, the choice to have an actor play up to three-four characters possessed an interesting vitality. While it was at times confusing, the cast was mostly able to overcome this with their impressive acting range. The choreography of the play that made the supporting cast enter the stage alternately from different corners behind the audience was a dynamic supplement to the one-person narrative.
At the acme of the play, Marnie made a traumatising discovery. Her feelings were effectively conveyed to the audience, the half-humorous, somewhat ironic tone of her previous distresses turning into a darker, tense drama. Leading to her efforts to try and seek justice through this system, the tension grew as the helplessness of her situation grew stronger. As the tension peaked, she reached out to her audience to tell her what she should do. To enhance the intimacy of the situation, the lights were promptly turned off. It was an emotional moment that elicited a strong empathetic response and led the play to go out with a bang.