Edinburgh Fringe 2017
“Moving, truthful and darkly comic, Box Clever by nabokov’s associate-playwright Monsay Whitney, with music performed by Avi Simmons, is a new play about one woman’s experience of a refuge and a mother’s commitment to do the best for her daughter.”
Marnie (played by Monsay Whitney, who also wrote the play) is a young single mother from the East End of London with a whole lot of attitude and even more problems. Having escaped with her four year old daughter Autumn from an abusive relationship, Marnie faces homelessness, a complex relationship with her mother, frustration with the welfare and care systems, and a refuge which is not the safe haven she expected. Her candour and humour, along with her fierce reaction to any threat to her child, render her likeable in a disconcerting way. She’s a woman you’d want to have on your side in an argument but you’d hope would never turn on you. She’s by no means perfect but she’s doing her best with what she’s been given, and that’s what makes us care for her. The script is strong, painting a picture of Marnie’s experiences trying to get help for herself and her daughter which is troubling and sticks in the mind long after the show has ended.
But this production, directed by Stef O’Driscoll for nabokov, isn’t the standard one-woman monologue about a battle with the welfare system that’s been seen before. The addition of the clown (played by Avi Simmons), who sings, plays the guitar and utilises a range of toys and dress-up items as she plays all of the other characters, is a clever device to present Marnie’s inner frustrations as well as the surreal nature of her struggle to find what should be a basic human right – a safe home for her child. The clowning and music add an intriguing layer which sets this show apart, but this could be developed further and executed more clearly – further development of the role of the clown and her relationship to Marnie, both dramaturgically and in terms of movement, would make this production even stronger.
That said, both performers give engaging performances and O’Driscoll manages the sometimes tricky circular Roundabout space well, using it as a tool to draw the audience into the story. The narrative is important and current, and Whitney is a playwright to watch.