Writers: Conrad Murray & Paul Cree
Director: Conrad Murray
When theatres eventually reopen, their programming could be incredibly risk averse, with only known actors and known plays, anything that will guarantee a return. With that in mind and coinciding with the announcement of Ian McKellen’s new Hamlet, it is interesting to revisit Beats & Elements No Milk for Foxes at the Camden People’s Theatre performed in 2015, an anguished howl lamenting the lack of opportunity for working class creatives.
Marx and Sparxx are security guards working the night shift protecting an electronics factory. Mark, a veteran of 9-months, is concerned about a hole in the fence while new colleague Sparxx, otherwise known as Steven, sulks about the world. Over the course of one night they talk politics, unions, families, John Wayne and bingo, but before dawn things will have changed for them both.
This archival recording with subtitles is filmed largely from the third row of the tiny Camden People’s Theatre with a couple of alternative angles used later to get a little closer to the actors. Never meant to be broadcast, the purpose of creators Conrad Murray and Paul Cree is loud and clear. This YouTube video is even accompanied by a stark message – “We thought we would upload at this time of lockdown, to create more diversity amongst the current streamed theatre show and productions.”
Little has changed in the last five years and watching No Milk for Foxes now it is striking how hungry the performers are and how passionately they represent their community. The aggressive interaction between Marx and Sparxx is largely comic, referencing brands like Woolworths and Panda Pop, but also captures a very particular type of male posturing. Yet, very quickly the audience sees the fear and depth beneath the surface. In their own way they rage against the box they’ve been placed in without wishing be anyone else; they are nice boys who love their nans confined by zero hours contracts and other people’s limited expectations for them, forcing them to “stick to the programme” to survive.
The integration of beatbox music within and between scenes is where the writers are most openly vocal about the limited opportunities for working class communities and the value of the lives being lived by hard working people trying to get by. In a stinging side swipe at the theatre industry, they note that the performing arts are shut off to those who cannot pay for auditions and tuition fees, while the notion of free internships is something only ‘posh people do’.
The recording quality isn’t always great and the play itself could be tighter, with unnecessarily long interludes between scenes where performers Murray and Cree move around the set as the characters silently do their jobs. There are also some loose threads including a subplot about Sparxx attending after work social functions Marx knows nothing about and it is never entirely clear why, but No Milk for Foxes is a show with something big to say. There is a real concern that getting theatres back on an even keel will come at the cost of diversity; No Milk for Foxes may be five years old but its warning sounds as loud as ever,
Available here to stream