Hannah Ayesha Ritchie’s Box Clever was a geniusly uncomfortable performance. Hosted by Feminist Society, this play by Monsay Whitney challenges modern feminism by showing how the most vulnerable women in society are still being critically failed by systems of care. Marnie and her four year old daughter, Autumn, relocate to a women’s shelter in a desperate escape from domestic violence. They hope to find safety here, but the support networks actually throw them into even more danger.
Cramming an intense amount of social criticism into just over an hour, Whitney’s script is not an easy choice. However, Ritchie absolutely proved herself capable of the challenge. A flood of entrances and exits between each scene left Marnie and Autumn abandoned in the centre of the stage, helpless and invisible to society. Their isolation was furthered by the ‘theatre in the round’ staging which made them seem lost and alone. Though props and costumes were minimal, all seemed thoughtfully chosen and the stripped-back nature of the performance cleverly reflected the poverty of its characters.
As Marnie, Georgia Luckhurst was tasked with delivering some very long monologues, but these never felt recited. Her persistent eye contact forced the words on the audience and she held a power to her voice which contrasted harrowingly with her character’s risky position. On the other side of the coin, Caitlin Morris was brilliantly infuriating as FiFi, the hopeless and bureaucratic manager of the shelter. With chilling aggression, Adam Spencer played all three of the troubled and threatening men in Marnie’s life, emblematic of the vicious circle the character had found herself in.
For those who aren’t convinced by the fist-pumping feminism of theatre like The Vagina Monologues, Whitney’s play convincingly questions the movement to ask whether it really practices what it preaches. Box Clever was a powerful and unforgettable education into the lives of marginalized women. This performance will certainly stay with me.
STARS: * * * * *
Carla van der Sluijs
Graphics by Rowan Wishart and Brianna Chu