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Girls & Boys (Susan Elkin reviews)

Girls and Boys by Dennis Kelly, Royal Court, Jerwood Theatre Downstairs.

This excoriatingly powerful 90-minute monologue is bravura 5-star show by any standards. Carey Mulligan is an extraordinary actor and Dennis Kelly’s new play is hideously topical, apposite and accurate. And director Lyndsey Turner has moulded it into a piece of highly dynamic theatre which explores why some people do evil, ugly irrevocable things and how those affected might, just might, come to terms with the aftermath.

For the first 40 minutes or so you could be fooled into thinking this is a comedy. Describing how she met her husband in an airport queue and reliving scenes with her young children, Mulligan’s unnamed character is sardonic, delivering rapier like punch-lines to her anecdotes. Speaking in an estuary accent she has a way of licking her kips and twinkling her eyes. Both she, and Kelly’s script are very funny. Then, about 40 minutes in she drops in one devastating, shocking word – so casually that if you weren’t listening properly you’d miss it – and suddenly you realise where this is going and you stop laughing.

Eventually we get the truth, in blunt, devastating detail, Jaws clenched, Mulligan stops grinning and flashing her eyes. She ages ten years as we watch. And the audience stills in horror. Her performance is a masterclass in naturalistic acting.

Es Devlin’s ice blue set supports the action and the protagonist’s reliving of her memories. Most of the time Mulligan is standing down stage in an empty blue/white space. From time to time the screen behind her lifts and she moves back into the ground floor of her marital home with kitchen, dining and sitting area and high shelves stacked with the clutter of family life – all strangely, starkly white and unreal as she revisits edited memories. At one point the same space morphs into a shopping centre.

For sheer stamina and energy Girls & Boys is remarkable. It’s also one of the most dramatic emotional roller coasters I’ve seen in quite a while.

 First published by Sardines
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Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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