The Theatreguide.London Review
Royal Court Theatre February-March 2018
Part stand-up comic routine, part chilling melodrama, Dennis Kelly's new play is a remarkable piece of writing given a remarkable performance by Carey Mulligan.
It is the kind of work that lures you into a happy and complacent response and set of assumptions, and then quietly chips away at them to reveal something much darker.
Standing alone in Es Devlin's white box set, Mulligan introduces a familiar romantic comedy premise, the couple who meet-cute – here, on a queue to board an EasyJet flight – and fall in joyous love.
Her account of their courtship and marriage has an unapologetic happy bawdry that recalls Phoebe Waller-Bridge's Fleabag, and her narrative continues its celebratory tone as their marriage and careers both prosper.
The monologue is punctuated by scenes in a different mode, as the white box opens to reveal an upscale home, where the woman plays out charming and believable scenes with her invisible-to-us children.
The first dark turn comes when she interrupts one of the family scenes to admit that we are not watching flashbacks, but enactments of how she chooses to remember events involving the children who are not present in the present.
I really can't go too much further without a spoiler alert. Suffice to say we will eventually learn why the children are not there, why the husband is not there, and why she chooses to shape her memories in this way.
The discoveries will be both shocking and believable, the most moving being the insight into the psychology that has led to her mode of presentation from the beginning.
Playwright Dennis Kelly has shaped a multilevel narrative that repeatedly illuminates events and characters by revealing that what we thought we just saw and heard actually had an entirely different meaning.
But it is performer Carey Mulligan and director Lyndsay Turner who make it all work by sensitively navigating the revelations and reversals, and the shifts in mode and tone.
Mulligan is thoroughly believable and endearing as the life-enjoying free spirit, and thoroughly believable and sympathetic as the traumatised survivor of horrors – and, most impressively, her characterisation remains all of a piece throughout.
Girls And Boys is a bit like a chocolate bonbon with a tart fruit centre. The contrast may come as a bit of a shock, but the combination is especially satisfying.
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