Review: Girls and Boys, Royal Court

“If it gets difficult – and it will get difficult – I want you to remember two things: remember that this did not happen to you, and that it is not happening now”

Credit where credit is due – Es Devlin’s design for Girls and Boys, aided by Luke Halls’ video work, is simply stunning – the simplest of ideas realised with perfect execution. A modern flat smothered in dreamy turquoise, punctuated at each scene change with a flash of the ‘real’ flat superimposed on top. The effect is literally blink-and-miss-it but somehow sears onto the retina, as if caught in a hallucination or reverie.

But such deceptive simplicity is far from effortless as no less than four associate set designers are credited – Jack Headford, Jed Skrzypczak, Angie Vasileiou and Machiko Weston – and two associate video designers – Charli Davis and Zakk Hein. No matter how the work was divvied up, all should get to take a bow as it is deeply thrilling work (I want someone to write a longform piece on the subtly changing orange objects). It also helps that Dennis Kelly’s monologue, delivered by Carey Mulligan, is exceptional.

It’s the type of show best experienced sight unseen, as unspoiled as you can be. Mulligan’s unnamed character starts off as a raconteur, delivering the anecdotes of a headily intense relationship with all the wit and ease of a stand-up comedian. From charismatic first meetings to upward career trajectories, they have it made. And in-between, she playacts scenes of domestic boisterousness with their two kids, sibling breaking clay chickens and games with buckets of mud.

And then a moment happens that sucks all the air out of theatre. Less a punch in the guts and more a sense of the walls slowly closing in, forced by an unbearable weight. Here, Girls and Boys soars. Mulligan’s tragic intensity is peerless, whether searching for meaning where none is to be found or imbuing a Wikidump of facts with impossibly real feeling. And Kelly’s writing is a fierce indictment of the corrosive effects of violence – of any kind – on society and full of arresting insight.

As Mulligan’s character says at one point, “I am, of course, just giving you one side”. but Girls and Boys might just be the best new play of 2018 regardless of what is yet to come.

Running time: 80 minutes (without interval)
Photos: Marc Brenner
Booking until 17th March

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