W14 Productions in association with The Bunker
Marnie (Redd Lily Roche) is very angry and with good reason. Her home is no longer safe from the violence of a former boyfriend and the refuge she has been placed in with her four-year-old daughter Autumn is infested with rodents. To make matters worse, an abusive character named Damien is preying on her daughter.
You’d think these were urgent issues the authorities would want dealt with but they seem keener to cover up their failure to spot the risks and to ship Marnie off to another location.
Performed at the Edinburgh Fringe and elsewhere with two actors, Box Clever is here presented as a monologue spoken by Redd Lily Roche as Marnie. If this intensifies the single note fury of what she says, there are plenty of funny lines in its early section to make the audience laugh and lighten the mood.
Marnie’s life seems chaotic, and for much of that early part of the show she talks about the drugs she takes, the three former boyfriends she can't shake off even when they are locked in prison, a mother who lets her down and the stupidity of those around her. Cynically, she describes the area she comes from in South East London as a place where “mental patients and criminals procreated” and she adds that you can tell this just by looking at their eyes. She also mocks the feminism of the social worker who tries to run a group support meeting and seems less than competent.
But when we see how various agencies fail to respond to the abuse of her four-year-old, it is clear the problem is much bigger than one person. The social worker who takes the statement wants to bury it, the police want nothing to do with it and when she leaves the refuge to protect her daughter from further abuse, the council declares she has made herself deliberately homeless and takes steps to put her child in care.
Box Clever is a desperately bleak story and to emphasise the horror Marnie is first seen on stage in white jeans and white T-shirt both bearing patches of blood which grow larger throughout the performance. It's an unnecessary extra in a play where the overwhelming problems and dangers facing Marnie are obvious.
What is less obvious is what can be done to help. Marnie, a victim of state abuse and the violence of men, turns finally to the audience and asks, ”what am I s’posed to do? Tell me, 'cos I don’t know any more. What do I do?”