Review: Killymuck / Box Clever, The Bunker Theatre

“I can’t go around being expected to give preferential treatment to every woman that declares herself a feminist. Marching against the pay gap don’t exempt you from being a c***.”

There are endless statements that I could pluck from the Bunker’s double bill of one-woman-shows, but somehow this one seemed the most fitting. Killymuck written by Kat Woods and directed by Caitriona Shoobridge, and Box Clever written by Monsay Whitney and directed by Stef O’Driscoll, are two separate plays but have been placed back to back in one evening for very good reason. Both pieces unapologetically delve into what it means to be born with less: less money, less support and crucially, less opportunity. Killymuck follows the story of Niamh (played by Aoife Lennon) as she navigates growing up on a council estate in 1970s Ireland and the seemingly endless barriers to escaping the underclass stereotype. Box Clever features Marnie (played by Redd Lily Roche) who is forced to move into a women’s refuge due to domestic abuse and is repeatedly failed by the very systems designed to protect her and her child.

It’s difficult to know where to begin in reviewing these shows, but I’ll start with the lighting design by Joe Price and Gareth Weaver. In both, the stage is framed by seven tall rods of light, which create the appropriate idea of being caged in. These rods are multi-functional and used to great effect; strobe, flashing and flickering all serve to add to the mood of whatever is happening on stage. In Killymuck, these lights go out and house lights come up when Lennon steps out of the cage to deliver some unnerving facts and figures to the audience in some truly Brechtian moments. These moments make you sit up and listen and feel just a little bit uncomfortable – which they absolutely should.

Also in both shows, sound design by Benjamin Grant is smartly used: rhythmic, low rumbles; 90s garage sounds; sound effects of IRA bombs and crying mothers are all used to enhance but never distract.

Design by Minglu Wang is intelligently done. In Killymuck, the stage is bare apart from a chair and a large pile of mud representing the “pauper’s graveyard” on which the Killymuck estate is supposedly built. For Box Clever, there are no props at all but the stage – as well as Roche’s all-white costume – is spattered with the suggestion of blood which seemingly alludes to the violence inflicted on Marnie by men and the system.

Performance and direction bring to life the already impressive words of Woods and Whitney. Both actors skilfully and deftly embody a whole host of different characters, invoking many laugh-out-loud moments amidst some very difficult material. Roche’s Marnie is stern and aggressive in her body language throughout, permanently – and understandably – on the defensive. However, when interacting with her daughter Autumn, who is represented by a simple white balloon (puppetry consulting by Hattie Thomas), she melts into something gentler. Lennon as Niamh is particularly good at embodying the character of her drunk, abusive father. She completely transforms and his intimidating presence alters the mood of the space. Movement direction by Louise Kempton brings out the best of these stories.

The success of Killymuck and Boxclever clearly lies in the work of a well-functioning team. Every cog in the machine is admirable in its own right. These shows force me to consider my own politics, my own feminism, and how women like these characters are being failed and let-down from every angle. There are no attempts to hide a political agenda – on the back of the programme is a list of websites, charities, and organisations to donate to or get in contact with.

This is crucial theatre. While some venues seemingly find it tricky to programme female playwrights and directors, the Bunker is working toward real, tangible change.

Killymuck and Box Clever are playing at the Bunker until 13 April. For more information and tickets, see The Bunker website.