FringeReview UK 2018
Dennis Kelly’s monologue Girls & Boys opens at the Royal Court Theatre Downstairs, directed by Lyndsey Turner stretches ninety minutes into something else. Es Devlin’s boxed turquoise set suddenly reveals a light turquoise kitchen diner, flecked briefly with cadmium yellow and orange details. David McSeveney’s sound plucks at memory. Oliver Fenwick’s lighting stripes daylight or night throughout the hauntingly perfect kitchen. Mulligan’s soft brown and saffron become one of the pivotal flecks of colour in Jack Galloway’s costumery. Extended already till March 10th.
When you hear: ‘I met my husband in the queue to board an easyJet flight and I have to say I took an instant dislike to the man’ you relax. Too soon. Such chippy wit rockets Carey Mulligan’s opening of Dennis Kelly’s monologue Girls & Boys at the Royal Court Theatre Downstairs, directed by Lyndsey Turner. What continues with laughter though stretches ninety minutes into something else.
Trying to find purpose the unnamed protagonist travels. To Paris ‘like Leeds with wider streets.’ By Naples you feel she needs someone as wide-mouthed as herself to stop her yawning.
It starts with a put-down of pushy models at a Naples flight queue. And of the future husband who charmingly, then spectacularly does so. Should we be a little bothered? ’Bit harsh…’ Mulligan concedes about the man’s scene ending: ‘It would be like wanking into a pretty dress.’ ‘But tell me that you don’t just love him, a little bit?’ Mulligan’s timing and delivery of an aside – exhorting the audience to experience ‘insane’ love at least once or kill themselves – is, as you’d expect, mesmerising.
This man’s incredibly affirmative of his new wife’s talents too. ‘You can do anything.’ And she’s obsessed with his ‘ridiculously articulate hands like they’d been sewn on and had belonged to a surgeon or… a concert pianist.’ It’s Kelly’s brushing of such details that both reveal character and latent ironies. Another is Mulligan’s (or rather Kelly’s) comments on multiple shootings in the U. S. on the day after one of the most horrific. Yet another theme she raises hit the headlines twice this same week.
Mulligan’s unnamed character elopes with our complicity into a whirlwind gig where Es Devlin’s boxed turquoise set suddenly reveals a light turquoise kitchen diner, flecked briefly with cadmium yellow and orange details, a bookshelf briefly florescent and then almost all back to the light turquoise blue of memory. David McSeveney’s sound plucks at memory too, but this is stillness with Mulligan mobile against it. Her hands too are unnervingly eloquent.
Mulligan’s character plays with her noisome children. alternating between this and her presentation-format background, as if at a TV documentary presentation, which she often is. Oliver Fenwick’s lighting stripes daylight or night throughout the hauntingly perfect kitchen. Mulligan’s soft brown and saffron become one of the pivotal flecks of colour in Jack Galloway’s costumery. We’re carefully told, indeed by the character: she’s cavorting with the past, her vivid present drops into it like an insert aria.
Relating her smart ambitious working-class persona, who gets her job through exhilarating effrontery (knocking down all the interns), you see Mulligan’s range from cheery raconteur, confiding, teasing, withholding and the kind of host in complete command. You identify with her relationship to the man who tells her she can do anything and go for it. He’s a doer himself she says. Yet by the end she understands this man ‘never existed’. Mulligan exudes not only the anxious careerist, exhibiting her documentary passions alongside those for her children and husband; but a unique mix of taciturnity and playfulness, jouissance and ferocity. It’s more than compelling. Fourteen years after her debut on this stage, it confirms Mulligan as a great stage actor.
As her husband’s antique wardrobe business slides though, and her TV documentary one thrives, tectonic plates judder. Though you sense what this might mean, the psychological shift here jars: a more nuanced exposition of the husband’s behaviour is needed. Still, we get a hint in the very way he won his future wife’s heart.
Perhaps it’s because dark themes so unnervingly tug with Kelly’s work, even at comedy, that this chips away at whatever lighter persona we’re lulled into – the kind we identify in through BBC3’s Pulling. Because it’s also part of Kelly, the effect’s authentically edgy. Themes of male control and more, of collapse and its outfall, are more than worked through. Kelly decided consciously not to allow the husband agency, to let Mulligan’s character own the space. As she contradicts a quasi-feminist old letch who declares social creation a machine to enable men, something to resist, Mulligan flips this over: ‘We didn’t create society for men. We created it to stop men.’ In this hard-won knowledge we look out through Mulligan’s once-laughing eyes. One can only hope this sold-out run’s extended, yet again, somewhere.