Beats & Elements are London based duo Conrad Murray and Paul Cree who have a particular beef with the world of online theatre. They state: “A lot of the streaming shows currently online are the same usual faces from the same venues. It’s all posh and major dosh. There needs to be more of the smaller, grittier shows, like ours”. And so they have released a video of their 2015 show No Milk For The Foxes shot at Camden People’s Theatre.
The pair play Mark and Steven, though they prefer to be known as Marx & Sparxx, a pair of disaffected security guards working the nightshift at a factory that makes washing machine circuit boards. Not that we actually see them doing much work because their role is really to be a presence to deter criminal activity not to proactively do anything except look at some screens and occasionally measure a hole in the perimeter fence which “seems to be getting bigger”. Most of their time is spent contemplating the state of the world today (well, five years ago) reflecting on the divide between the haves and have notes typified by the question “What is an internship?” and the response “Something that posh people do”. For they are on zero hours contracts and never know from one week to the next whether their services will be required going forward; worse than that ,the office has made a muddle with their timesheets and so they haven’t been paid for hours already expended. Mark has a pregnant partner and is struggling to make ends meet. He just wants to keep his head down and get through the shift and, despite outward appearances, is keen to ingratiate himself with his immediate boss – the unseen Wayne. Steven seems more blasé about the situation and can’t wait until clocking off time when he can do his own thing; despite this apparently laid-back attitude he seems to be permanently angry about a whole slew of stuff. He also has some wild dreams about saving up some of their pay and winning big at bingo. At times, the two of them reminded me of George and Lennie in Steinbeck’s Of Mice And Men.
A lot of the dialogue is, intentionally, mundane but in its own way inspires philosophical rumination along the lines of other classic double acts such as Mel Smith and Griff Rhys Jones or Peter Cook and Dudley Moore. Indeed, the earthiness of the language at times recalls the latter pairing’s notorious Derek and Clive. The discussions about working conditions, unions, unemployment, money, ambitions, grandparents, Farmville (whatever happened to that?) e cigarettes and milk (!) place the concerns of a generation front and centre. The dialogue scenes are interspersed with other reflections carried out through beatboxing and rapping – not something, I confess, about which I know a great deal but paying close attention to the words introduced a whole underpinning to the thrust of the show.
The You Tube notes make it clear that the recording was made for archival purposes and not originally intended for broadcast, so the quality is a bit rough and ready. A second intercut recording with different colouration and synching issues makes things a little less smooth but, hey, it is what it is and the “home made” aspect of the result is certainly not at odds with the overall feel of the piece – indeed it might be said to enhance it. Some momentum is lost during scene changes which seem to take a long while; maybe these could have been edited out. It is perhaps a pity that the subtitles disappear during the musical interludes – just when they would have been most useful.
Despite the feeling that I am in no way the target audience for this type of theatre (although in another sense I absolutely am) I actually found myself appreciating and even enjoying the performance as the true purposes behind the piece began to assert themselves. Although now five years old it is a clever piece of contemporary theatre with two engaging performances which still has much to say about the (at least) two tier system in operation in this country and which events like Grenfell and the rise of coronavirus have highlighted even more sharply. In that sense it is definitely a valuable addition to the body of online theatre work. Still puzzling over that title though!