The Theatreguide.London Review
In March 2020 the covid-19 epidemic
forced the closure of all British theatres. Some companies adapted
by putting archive recordings of past productions online, others
by streaming new shows. Until things return to normal we review
the experience of watching live theatre onscreen.
Milk For The Foxes
Beats & Elements, Camden People's Theatre and YouTube Summer 2020
This one-hour two-character
play, written and performed by Conrad Murray and Paul Cree, directed by
Murray, played at the Camden People's Theatre in 2015, with this video
version made available in 2020.
It uses an almost plotless
look at a pair of night watchmen in a warehouse to explore and comment on
the lives of the just-barely-employed.
The men don't do much actual
night watchmaning, but sit around, chatting about various things. In the
process we gradually sense how very narrow their horizons are, constricted
not just by external forces but by the limits of their own imaginations.
They are on zero-hours
contracts, which means that not only are they not guaranteed any minimal
amount of work per week but that they have none of the legal protections
They have, in fact, not been
paid this week, and can do nothing but grumble half-heartedly, and mention
of a union is quickly dropped as a pipe-dream.
But every other topic of
conversation that comes up also reveals how small their lives are.
Fantasies of riches can go no further than winning at bingo, dreams of
holidays no more elaborate than a cut-price week at Butlins.
Philosophising on the gap
between them and their grandparents gets no deeper than noticing that the
old folks like to garden, and what sets out to be a heartening tale of a
friendly neighbour peters out in a bleak ending.
The guys grumble a bit, but
what really affects us is how very little better they can even imagine
their lives being. Eventually things actually get worse, a development so
unsurprising to them that they can't work up too much anger or despair.
The company's name is Beats
And Elements, and central to their style is punctuating the drama by five
beat-boxing and rapping sequences in which the two performers step up to
microphones and either one speaks rapidly while the other makes beatbox
noises, or they overdub various mouth-generated sounds into multilayered
With a strong premise and some effective sequences, the play still meanders a little too much, losing and then rediscovering its focus, and the beatbox numbers seem more like interruptions than enhancements.
There is clearly talent here,
in the writing and performing, but the overall impression, not unusual in
fringe theatre, is of a promising first draft a couple of rewrites away
from full success.
The very basic video recording, made for their archives, has limitations and imperfections that are inescapable but not crippling.
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