The Box, currently playing at the White Bear Theatre in Kennington, fails to shed light on an important and sensitive issue.
This four-hander sees a young couple move into their first home. Described as a tale of a ‘toxic relationship’, we see a couple at war at two different stages presented simultaneously: their lives unfolding in the present, and the pair reflecting on their tumultuous past.
Firstly, let’s call a spade a spade here: The Box is a piece about domestic abuse and it needs to be treated as precisely that. It presents one-sided emotional manipulation, so let’s not try to ‘sex up’ an important issue that ruins lives. The lack of subtlety and sensitivity around the subject matter makes the piece feel entirely gratuitous and that it is a merely a vehicle for an ‘experimental’ form.
Emma Stirling as Young Robyn is an actor with potential. She does her best with the clunky dialogue to create a multi-faceted character and make her lines seem spontaneous and genuinely felt. Dan Burman as young Andrew is convincing at times, but the awkward text frequently gets the better of him. The employment of the two timeframes is positioned to expose the shifting of power over time. However, the presentation of Older Robyn and Andrew by Pat Garret and Will Anderson is so eye-wateringly awkward and unconvincing that this element does nothing aside from interrupt the flow of two young actors struggling to maintain momentum. It strikes me that the juxtaposition between the two couples is the play’s raison d’être, and therefore, it fails spectacularly.
Whilst there is a real lack of attention to detail across the piece, one thing which I found particularly difficult to overlook was how Older Robyn bore absolutely no resemblance to Younger Robyn. Young Robyn has a distinct Essex twang, whilst Old Robyn speaks with the RP of someone who believes they are emulating Judi Dench’s Ophelia. Are we to assume that in the passage of time passed Robyn found time to attend a 1940s finishing school? Who knows.
The conclusion of The Box is clearly meant to be shocking and unexpected. Aside from the fact that it closely ‘mirrors’ a well-known piece of television writing (there’s a clue in there), it feels entirely contrived and surprising only in how ill-thought through it is. I would really like to say I saw some potential in this play, and admittedly one thing the writing does achieve is how it is possible for a relationship to shift into an unhealthy space gradually over time, exposing the difficulties for those locked in such situations. Sadly, I just don’t think this is enough to justify the painfully unsubtle use of metaphor, awkward dialogue and ill-thought-out concept that make the production stand out for all the wrong reasons.