Seven Methods of Killing Kylie Jenner
Time Out says
Shari Sebbens directs this high-energy, politically astute portrait of two women caught in the throes of a Twitter storm
Cleo tweeted that she wanted Kylie Jenner dead. She was (mostly) joking. Knife emoji.
A blue-lit phone is the only source of light when Cleo (Moreblessing Maturure), waking up in her bedroom, scrolls down to see a tweet proclaiming that Kylie Jenner, youngest of the Jenner/Kardashian klan, has become Forbes’ ”youngest self-made billionaire”. Riled by the idea that Jenner could profiteer so blatantly by appropriating Black culture and aesthetics, she sends a tweet into the ether.
Jenner made fuller lips fashionable by injecting lip filler, says Cleo, “but when Mac Instagrammed a picture of a Black model with lips of the same width she was called ugly”.
She hashtags it #kyliejennerfidead.
Over the next 90 minutes, the sharply delivered, jaw-achingly funny play written by British playwright Jasmine Lee-Jones and directed in its Australian iteration by Shari Sebbens, follows Cleo and her best friend Kara (Vivienne Awosoga) as they wade through murky waters: unpicking old resentments, hurling accusations of light-skinned privilege and homophobia, and reckoning with the experience of being a Black woman today. It unravels the life-cycle of a tweet: from praise to virality, backlash and public shaming to a counterstrike in the form of dredged-up old tweets, and culminating finally in public contrition.
The power of the internet to amplify and obfuscate – and its ability to synthesise joy, mockery and even death threats into GIF form – is realised on stage in the form of a three-dimensional lightbox suspended above the actors, designed by Wendy Yu. It flashes with tweets as if in real-time. In the play’s climactic moment, a puff of sky-blue feathers erupts from the box, like the detritus from the violent strangulation of that chirpy blue Twitter icon.
Lee-Jones’ characters are well-drawn and sympathetic, even at their most obnoxious. Unleashing holy hell on Twitter may be her preferred MO, but Cleo is proficient in discussing structural racism in both the languages of academia and meme culture, slipping into each like they were two sides of a reversible jumpsuit. (Kara at one point asks Cleo to “stop speaking dissertation” to her.) As the starring pair, Maturure and Awosoga keep up a high-energy, ricocheting chemistry, especially when acting out subtweets. Many of the memes in the play are garden-variety (think Michael Jackson eating popcorn, a Real Housewife sharpening a knife, Kermit drinking Lipton), but others will only be recognised by the extremely online. If you know, you know.
In some ways, the downward spiral of the tweet from witty callout to unbridled mess is just a vehicle for the friendship of Cleo and Kara to play out in. It’s one rooted in chaos, strengthened in conflict and underpinned by a deep, clawing love. Under Sebbens’ deft direction, even in moments when Lee-Jones’ dialogue threatens to move into the didactic, Maturure and Awosaga still make it feel like a whole lot of fun.
When Cleo and Kara’s rage at the world threatens to fracture their friendship, they begin to speak in shorter, more clipped forms of internet-speak. It’s only here, when the ‘OMG’s tumble over the ‘NGL’s in too quick succession, after a litany of ‘RN’s and ‘S2G’s, that the production threatens to lose a little of its pace and sacrifices some verisimilitude. No-one says 'JS' that much.
But wherever they go, their audience – made up on opening night by mostly Black and brown people – is there with them. They snap appraisingly, gasp collectively and laugh riotously.
Near the end of the play, the lights go up. The surveyors become the surveyed for a minute, and there is a mirror reflection of youth and brownness and blackness, from on-stage to the seated crowd. “They’re just sat there,” Cleo says, looking out to the audience, awed at the sight of those who’ve been watching her all evening. “Not saying anything.” That’s true – but they sure are tweeting about it.