Glass reviews Girls and Boys at the Royal Court, London

DENNIS Kelly’s latest play for the Royal Court is Girls and Boys, a one-woman ninety minute narrative starring the affable and captivating Carey Mulligan. Thirteen years ago, Mulligan made her Royal Court debut playing a narcoleptic teenager in Kevin Elyot’s Forty Winks and this year she graces the stage again in a triumphant performance.

Carey Mulligan in Girls and Boys at the Royal Court, London. Photograph: Marc Brenner

Mulligan is the play’s unnamed solo actor.  She is dressed stylishly and smart, but her character is from humble beginnings. She draws the audience into her narrative in an engaging and charismatic manner. Initially, I felt some apprehension from Mulligan as she directly addressed the audience in a colloquial way, but within 15 minutes she had warmed up and I felt like I was listening to an old friend chatter away over a cup of coffee. She is breezy, humorous and intimate, retelling anecdotes and recounting pivotal moments in her life with candour. However, beneath this exterior, we can tell her she is haunted with a darker story, one of sadness and grief.

Carey Mulligan in Girls and Boys at the Royal Court, London. Photograph: Marc Brenner

Mulligan’s character is a hard grafter and explains to us how she worked her way up from the bottom, blagging her way through interviews to get an entry-level film job and forging an impressive career. One of the many messages of Kelly’s writing is that you can achieve anything if you try hard enough. After all, “No one’s special. We’re all just weird looking chimps”. She then maps the journey of the next stage of her life, which involves meeting the man of her dreams, having two children, but then after the passion comes the loveless tedium of marriage and she suspects her husband of having an affair.

Mulligan’s animated features slowly develop glaring lines of sorrow, as we learn of the difficulties and pain that hit her marriage and things begin to unravel. Mulligan’s delivery is that of a great orator; her storytelling and delivery is utterly delightful at points, yet astonishingly painful at others, underpinned by Kelly’s wonderfully relatable, yet still poetic script. Scenes of her scolding her invisible children interrupt her animated narrative – something that Kelly certainly wants us to pay close attention to as the climax of the play approaches.

Carey Mulligan in Girls and Boys at the Royal Court, London. Photograph: Marc Brenner

The design is by Ez Devlin and the blank box set ensures that our attention does not wander at any point from our charming protagonist and Kelly’s genius writing. This set transforms instantly into an eerily monotone blue kitchen for the flashback scenes with the woman’s children as we are left asking questions about their existence. Lynsey Turner’s direction is shrewd and simplistic. She and Mulligan understand how to do justice to a story that starts off rather insular, personal and specific and culminates in a societal comment and observation about the balance between men and women; the relationship between girls and boys.

Carey Mulligan in Girls and Boys at the Royal Court, London. Photograph: Marc Brenner

Girls and Boys is a gem. Ninety minutes is incredibly demanding for one actor to hold court, but Mulligan accepts the challenge with gusto and charisma. We see every facet of her acting repertoire as she brings Kelly’s raw, funny and devastating script to life. She is an absolute tour-de-force who is every bit as glorious on stage, as on screen.  

by Heather Doughty

Photographs: Marc Brenner 

Girls and Boys is at the Royal Court, London until March 17, 2018

Royal Court Theatre, Sloane Square, London, SW1W 8AS

Box office: 020 7565 5000

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Glass Magazine Online arts and culture writer

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