Box Clever, Edinburgh Festival Fringe

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Marnie’s a 22-year-old single mum from Bermondsey and every day is a fight at the moment. Her mum’s harbouring Marnie’s abusive ex, the guy she’s in love with has a new bird who’s using the legal system to keep them apart and her daughter’s dad isn’t around. Marnie currently lives in a woman’s refuge and the shadow of social services is hanging over her.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. Marnie is an engaged, loving parent who does everything she can to provide for her daughter, but British society is against her. Her age, social class, mental health and family situation have thwarted her success since she was little, but she has an unbreakable aspiration for a good life. Nabokov’s resident playwright Monsay Whitney’s use of a narrative, multi-rolling clown makes a more fully-fledged play out of what would otherwise be a monologue, and supports the undertone of hope. The brightly-coloured clown costume is an unsettling juxtaposition to the threatening social systems that Marnie combats.

The performances are excellent. Whitney, who also plays Marnie, has a fearless, fighting intensity that works particularly well in the Roundabout’s intimacy. It would also carry in a much larger space. Avi Simmons is a versatile actor with boundless energy who takes on the other women in the refuge, Marnie’s daughter, mum and the men in her life.

There’s little to fault here. This aggressive criticism of tick box culture has a few loose ends that aren’t properly tied up, but the same is likely to be said for Marnie’s life. The travelling players aesthetic works well for these characters who are always on the move, and it provokes reflection on the systems that actively oppress society’s most vulnerable people.

Box Clever runs through 27 August.

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