The Bunker’s double-bill of Killymuck and Box Clever are unflinching in their depiction of women born with less money and opportunity. The play follows the lives of Niamh, growing up on a 1970s council estate in Ireland, and Marnie, struggling with her young child in a women’s refuge. Throughout, governmental systems designed to help vulnerable people are exposed as manipulative, trapping people in a cycle of hardship. By unapologetically tackling issues of domestic abuse, alcoholism and sexual assault, writers Kat Woods and Monsay Whitney’s one-woman shows leave the audience asking why societal systems are failing masses of disadvantaged people.
Direction of Box Clever is fantastically brutal, as solo actress Redd Lily Roche transforms into the different obstacles halting her quest to find safety for her young daughter; her skilful impersonation of social workers and policemen brings subtle, satirical comedy to the otherwise harrowing material. More intense moments see Roche painfully twisting on the ground accompanied by flickering strobe lights, which effectively correspond to her distress throughout the production. Particularly disturbing is how minimalist design slowly cracks under pressure towards the end of the play – Marnie’s white T-shirt and trousers become stained with blood every time she is beaten to the floor by imagined authority, and the seven rods of light caging her, end up switching off one by one, as the protagonist realises her options of safety have run out. Marnie ends the play crying out at the audience before she is suffocated by darkness. Amidst much of the draining chaos of the plot however, a white balloon is used to represent the innocence of Marnie’s young daughter, Autumn. Roche uses the prop as a puppet and its unresponsiveness just goes to emphasise the distance she feels even from her own family, adding to the emotional punches that repeatedly rip through the production.
Killymuck tackles similar subjects of inequality, with Aoife Lennon portraying life in an impoverished Irish estate just after Thatcher has come to power. Her convincing impressions of cruel protestant schoolboys, and more distressingly, her frequently drunk and angry father, sensitively flesh out issues such as a lack of educational opportunity. Interestingly, the protagonist’s childhood is similar to Box Clever in the way that constant obstacles prevent her from escaping the stereotype of being underclass. This message especially hits home when Niamh (the main character) steps out of the stage boundary set by a square of fluorescent rods, and the house lights go up as she hurls statistics concerning poverty in Ireland at the audience; she discusses abortion laws and mentions the Enniskillen bombing, deliberately making viewers uncomfortable. Generally, the production is richly tinged with bitterness and regret, especially concerning the way that Niamh describes her mother maintaining her family despite their lack of money and the father’s alcoholism. The play’s shattering climax, aided by flashing and pulsating lights focused on the pile of mud and a chair (the only set pieces) centre-stage, demonstrate how the council estate, supposedly built on a “pauper’s graveyard”, is an eternal trap for false expectations set about Niamh.
Killymuck and Box Clever are timely pieces of theatre which tackle subjects we are often afraid to discuss, with poignancy and realism. More importantly, they drag an audience through the ups and downs of women’s false hope, as they are continually manipulated by authoritarian systems designed to protect them. The political accusations made in both productions are fierce and persistent, accompanied by sleek costume and set design, which enhance painful emotion, and never distract from the genuine, skilled performances by both actresses.
Edited by Evangeline Stanford, Digital Editor