No Milk for the Foxes is as much a beatbox lament, here the voice of the impoverished, as it is a portrait of council estate rage in Cameron’s austerity Britain. But is it an impersonation of ideology too?
In some ways, we are in danger of being presented with archetypal ‘working class’ stock characters. Two security guards, here played by Conrad Murray (director of BAC’s Beatbox Academy) and Paul Cree (a spoken word artist) sit it out in their office at an industrial factory. They worry about the hole in the fence which thieves could get through ( note the anal bureaucratic preciseness that such jobs demand- the hole is “29 metres away from the fire exit”) Wayne the boss is not paying up and Sparx (Murray) keeps checking his online bank account. Mark (Cree) has a baby on the way and is still living at his parents’ home with his girlfriend.
They discuss unions, zero hours contracts, the media, we even get philosophising over social media’s propensity to take over our lives – Mark and his girlfriend are obsessed with a virtual farm game (the only way they can ever get on the property ladder right?) Sparx can only despair at this with his talk of his grandparents’ love of nature and picking raspberries on a London common, a harking back, may be unconsciously, to John Major’s ‘invincible green suburbs’ speech..itself, another ideology. And all the action, taking place during the pair’s night shifts, is interrupted with forays into beatbox, both Conrad Murray’s and Paul Cree’s talent here breaking up the other scenes of banality such jobs bring with explosive energy.
But. Theatre is not just about identity (Murray and Cree were motivated to do this show because they feel theatrically under and misrepresented). Undoubtedly the two bring an energy and hot anger that has the same authenticity about it as some of Andrea Dunbar’s best work, yet both characters hardly step out of the seemingly innocent archetypes they have set up for themselves (whilst Dunbar’s do). Sparx has an obsession with the page 3 girls that no longer exist, The Sun is the only newspaper in sight, yet Mark talks with all the poetry of a less educated Trofimov to contrast with Sparx’s street cred bluffing. Even if the polemics can be forgiven because the beat box is so good, the production’s obviousness and even victimising, lets it down. And I say victimising because it suffers from a laconic deadpan quality which whilst milked for comedic value, does nothing to advance the duo out of their predicament- it also undermines their sense of helplessness somewhat and their quite reasonable anger.
Yet No Milk for the Foxes is also a hymn. It is two young men’s honest portrait of a world that is hidden from those who don’t work such jobs or live on such estates. It has heart, we care about the stories they tell. We are angry that they don’t get paid because someone higher up the food chain has taken a half day off- yes, this stuff really happens and the outrage one feels and the powerlessness that comes with it, is all too true. It’s dramatic authenticity is pitch perfect- Mark makes up for his boring job with a ridiculous attention to its administrative detail, Sparx does not care. There’s even an element of Waiting for Godot about it- the two men slightly irritate each other in a good humoured sort of way but are ultimately torn apart by powers they cannot see- the zero hours system allowing for such abuse of human rights that it does.
Comparisons have been made to Beyond Caring which opens at the National Theatre next week, making a transfer from The Yard. But what that production does so well is paint a picture of a world where folks are just about surviving and, are becoming shadows of themselves because of it. Here humour covers the real cost to Mark and Sparx and whilst it may be a defence mechanism, and whilst the two have great chemistry and are beguiling in their roles, one can’t help feeling it is all still a little bit self conscious and slightly reductionist.