The Box - Free

Sat 27th – Sun 28th August 2011

reviews

Julia Chapman

at 09:08 on 29th Aug 2011

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Great playwriting can come from the most simple of ideas, and a box seems as good as any for a starting point. The Box, written by Louisa-Mai Parker, is a dystopian examination of the fight between control and freedom of the mind. As a piece of writing The Box is a revelation. Utterly gripping as the enigma of the box is unveiled, the story develops in a layered manner that ensures that the audience is always kept in curiosity.

The play opens with a woman who, we are told, is in a box. A man comes in looking for a shoe, and the two have a Beckettian discussion of shoe-searching for a while. Then the action begins to alternate between the box and a woman in a hospital ward, Patient Y, under examination by ‘the party’ for thinking dangerous thoughts. This ‘party’, the government in power that believes that “If people haven’t done anything wrong, they should have nothing to fear”, maintains a world in which free will does not, must not exist outside ‘the box’.

Paradoxically enough, the enclosed space that we think of as a box is the only place where inhabitants of this dystopian world can feel free. Patient Y cries, “put me back in the box”, desperate for the liberty of autonomy.

There is nothing groundbreaking about writing that criticises over-controlling governments. That said, the intriguing story that developed in The Box made the familiar theme more interesting. The mystery surrounding the box, what it was and why people went there, propelled the action. As the play progressed, clues were gradually revealed, building tension until enough information was provided for a realisation. The thrust of the play, although not initially obvious, required more subtlety as phrases such as, “Privacy is a luxury that no man deserves”, quickly became repetitive.

The actors were all superb, particularly Louisa-Mai Parker as the calm and thoughtful Clare. Although the cast consisted of only four members, the space was decidedly limiting, which did provide some difficulties in terms of viewpoint. The script was so good, however, that I was kept on the edge of my seat (literally too; there wasn’t enough space in that room for everyone).

The story cleverly unfolded like a murder mystery which ensured the maintenance of attentiveness. The Box is a great piece of writing, and Red Bobble Theatre Company deserves commendation for a surprisingly riveting performance.

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Pat Massey

at 12:17 on 29th Aug 2011

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Having brought up a show for the last two days of the Fringe, Red Bobble seems to be dipping its toe in the water. Their effort to establish a reputation is as important as their effort to entertain. Thus, Parker has brought us a 'social piece', a dystopia story whose opening lines- short, questioning, repeatedly emphasizing the importance of an incongruous object- could take 'The Box' on a down hill course of cod-Beckett. “It's a shoe”/ “You have nice shoes”, for example.

But then we switch to a double-act where one confronts the other with monologues about 'the system'. Such a thematic contrast is surprising and holds our interest. Two contrasting styles in two plot threads would be an interesting line to follow. However, this thread ends up trailing behind the unravelling story in the first 'box'. Numerous neat twists add shades of grey to character we think we have pigeon-holed. Louisa-May Parker acts well even when sedentary, and uses posture and tone to make the dark side of her rich girl character convincing. In retrospect, we can believe the darkness was there all along, rather than an aspect introduced with the first twist.

In the second thread, Louise-Clare Henry has the striking build for unnerving characters such as she plays here. She has the grandstanding speeches but tempers them with an underlying mania, so that her moralising doesn't grate. Her foil, Kelly Munro-Fawcett, plays the nurse with an attitude more befitting her patient's rival. “Your father is a church-goer” should be a leading question; from Munro-Fawcett, it sounds like a snipe.

Daniel Hayes, who the programme suggests is a guest star rather than a permanent member, turns in an excellent Scouse. But it is the three budding actresses who deserve the plaudits; not least because they are involved in the production of the work. Their set was about a metre square, and it is to the director Parker's credit that she surmounted ensuing problems so well: sitting the offstage cast in the front row, for example.

Notwithstanding an ending which could be clearer, yet marries the two threads in a logical yet unexpected way, Red Bobble have made a good break into theatre- especially so first-time stage performer Parker. Keep an eye out.

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