Abigail Bryant reviews Girls & Boys at the Royal Court Theatre
It’s not often that something leaves you speechless, but Dennis Kelly’s Girls & Boys delivers such a powerful and visceral impact that language just doesn’t suffice for effectively conveying the experience housed within the renowned walls of the Royal Court. Carey Mulligan shines as the unnamed woman who takes us through her turbulent journey in an intense ninety minute solo performance, and it is credit to her refined and graceful acting skills that such warmth and humility can be expressed in the face of such a raw and evocative theme.
Violence is an ominous presence throughout this play, and it bubbles under the surface of the narrative, occasionally teasing us with glimpses of its destructive force before striking with venom as the climax of the production approaches. Dennis Kelly’s writing is rich, textured and brimming with compassion, and he balances humour and vulgarity with agonizing sentiment to a slick and fluid pace. The whole piece feels intimate and inclusive, and with the charisma of a seasoned stand-up comic Carey Mulligan well and truly breaks the fourth wall and addresses the audience frequently throughout. From a working class background, she blags her way into the documentary industry by triumphantly landing her dream role as a development executive assistant’s PA. She’s consistently engaging as an energetic and magnetic young woman that reminisces on her chance encounter with her husband in an EasyJet queue, before elaborating on the disturbing events that follow. Sporadic breaks in the narrative cast us back to bygone memories, and Mulligan convincingly enacts invisible interactions which conjure vivid scenes of familial dynamics and sinister forewarning. Es Devlin’s stylish set design also plays a pivotal role in storytelling, with effective and innovative lighting by Oliver Fenwick immersing us into the protagonist’s psyche.
Directed by Lyndsey Turner, Girls & Boys is a sharp and compelling sociopolitical commentary on gender and violent destruction, with nods towards control and class privilege, after all, ‘we’re all just weird looking chimps, no one is special.’ The play addresses and effectively conveys the jagged and unimaginable pain that exists in the aftermath of tragedy, and bravely approaches a subject matter that isn’t widely discussed. Carey Mulligan is the true star in every sense of the word, and her stoic yet agonisingly heartrending performance is the definition of theatrical catharsis. Mulligan, Kelly and Turner have joined forces as the dream collaboration for a remarkably executed nightmare.