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 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.

No 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 of employees.

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 soundscapes.

These sequences, I suspect, would play better in person than they do onscreen. 

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.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review of  No Milk For The Foxes 2020