'Girls & Boys' review

Theatre, Drama
4 out of 5 stars
4 out of 5 stars
(3user reviews)
 (© Marc Brenner)
1/7
© Marc Brenner
 (© Marc Brenner)
2/7
© Marc Brenner
 (© Marc Brenner)
3/7
© Marc Brenner
 (© Marc Brenner)
4/7
© Marc Brenner
 (© Marc Brenner)
5/7
© Marc Brenner
 (© Marc Brenner)
6/7
© Marc Brenner
 (© Marc Brenner)
7/7
© Marc Brenner

Dennis Kelly's new play is a whirlwind monologue starring Carey Mulligan

If Carey Mulligan fancied a second career as a stand-up comedian she’d totally nail it. Dennis Kelly’s new play is a perfect vehicle for her compelling mix of composure, nervy energy and deadpan wit. It’s dominated by scenes where she talks straight out to the audience. About bad sex, the shitness of Paris. Normal things. Then, a life starts to take shape. She’s a working class woman who barrels her way into a film industry that's stitched up by Pony Club graduates, intoxicated by her discovery of the power of confidence. She bags a husband who seems perfect, ambitious and supportive, and has the obligatory two kids.

Her autobiographical monologues are broken up by gentler, but unromanticised scenes, where she plays with her invisible children. Kelly wrote ‘Matilda’ and it just about shows here, as she hilariously tries to handle her precocious daughter, an architectural savant who’s trying to craft The Shard from mud. And her son, who wants to smash everything up.

These wry roleplays gain new weight as Kelly’s play slips from portrait to polemic, exploring the testosterone-fuelled destructive impulses that wreak havoc on trading floors as well as kitchen floors. It reminded me, oddly, of ‘2071’ - another Royal Court solo show, where scientist Chris Rapley took to the stage to explore the impact and inevitability of climate change in unarguable style. ‘Girls & Boys’ puts us back on that iceberg, but what’s wearing away under our feet isn’t the global ecology, it’s the quiet, comforting safety of the family unit.

When it's not being hilarious, this performance can feel like a hundred wildly persuasive opinion pieces mashed together and formed into an uncannily coherent whole. Early on, there's an anecdote about a balding man elaborately getting one over on two snotty supermodels that feels precision engineered to get blokes onside for the points on gender that follow. As its analysis deepens (Mulligan's character makes documentaries, she knows how to present an argument) I found its view of gender weirdly reductive, a bit biological - can we really pin all mankind’s problems on a little extra testosterone? But frustrating as I sometimes found it, I also found telling lines floating in my head for days afterwards.

Lyndsey Turner’s production is a knock-out, too: Es Devlin’s set-design is all uncompromising ice blue, like the woman it swirls around can only dredge up the painful outlines of her former life, not the colours. It transitions, fast, from kitchen to street to void, with a kind of unstoppable power that mirrors Kelly’s uncompromising text, and Mulligan’s equally uncompromising delivery.

One woman shows aren’t exactly unusual but this - a Hollywood megastar holding her own in an experimental but somehow also massively crowdpleasing solo show - this is pretty rare. Mulligan’s unshaking, still commitment to her performance feels like a kind of activism. Each stressed word is telling you that this stuff is real, it matters, and she's deploying every drop of charisma to make you listen.

By: Alice Saville

Posted:

Average User Rating

4 / 5

Rating Breakdown

  • 5 star:2
  • 4 star:0
  • 3 star:0
  • 2 star:1
  • 1 star:0
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tastemaker

However great an actor is, there’s always a moment of dread before going to see a monologue. A bad monologue can be terribly boring. However much I admire Carey Mulligan, I had this moment of dread before going to see Boys and Girls. I should not have. The story was gripping. The acting was subtle yet deeply moving. The text did have some bits that made it feel a bit lengthy sometimes but it was nothing that could take you out of the moment. As the story unfolds, fear starts settling in. You guess this is not a story with a happy ending, you start suspecting the worst. This is not a play that you go see to immerse yourself with the wonders of love. This is the story of one of the worst outcome love can have and it couldn’t have been delivered more beautifully.

tastemaker

I have a lot of time for Carey Mulligan, very happy to see her on the small box, on the big screen , or on stage.

Girls & Boys unfortunately is just not good enough for her. The material, is weak, & feeble, and is cliché ridden.
It very difficult to pull off a 90 monologue, even with clever dialogue, which this isn't. Carey Mulligan tries her best, but  the poor material wins.  
tastemaker

This play is incredible, Carey Mulligan is such a fantastic actress and she embodies this character so well. The set moves from being a turquoise wash living room/kitchen to a shopping centre, to a box that Mulligan recites her 'lectures' as it were about her life/men/non-trivial everyday things. If Michael McIntyre wrote a play, the opening scenes would be this, funny and light observational comedy. It's when the play takes a dramatic turn that you really realise what you are dealing with here. I won't give away too much, but certain, powerful lines of the piece are still repeating themselves in my head. I haven't seen a play that I have liked this much in a long time, so that's saying something!