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 The Theatreguide.London Review

In March 2020 the covid-19 epidemic forced the closure of all British theatres. Some companies adapted by putting archive recordings of past productions online, others by streaming new shows. And we take the opportunity to explore other vintage productions preserved online. Until things return to normal we review the experience of watching live theatre onscreen.

seven methods of killing kylie jenner
Royal Court Theatre Online   Spring 2022

A passionate yelp of anger and pain, and a fresh and disturbing analysis of cultural racism, Jasmine Lee-Jones's play was staged by the Royal Court Theatre in 2019 and 2021 and is now made available online.

A bit of background may be necessary for some. Kylie Jenner is a young American businesswoman, a member of the Kardashian family who were the subjects of a how-the-rich-and-glamorous-live American reality TV series.

Having their privileged lives on display for several seasons turned them all into exemplars of the cynical definition of celebrity famous just for being famous. As a teenager Jenner put her name on a fashion and cosmetics line and by 21 was being hailed as 'America's youngest self-made billionaire.'

It is that 'self-made' that enrages Cleo (Leanna Henlon), the young black woman at the centre of Lee-Jones's play, since it ignores the enormous advantage any rich, beautiful, white American woman accepts as her birthright.

If Jenner gets credit for something almost handed to her, then everyone who doesn't succeed must be a personal failure. If 'beauty' is defined as 'looking like Kylie Jenner,' then every black woman is being defined as ugly, and every young black woman who buys into the Jenner image is internalising that judgement of herself.

Cleo's response is to take to the Twittersphere with a string of tweets under the handle of Anonegro, revelling in the fantasy of destroying all that Jenner represents.

From that point Lee-Jones's play follows three alternating strands: Anonegro's tweets, the Twitterverse's responses to it, and personal scenes between Cleo and her friend Kora (Tia Bannon).

You may have to go back to Osborne's Look Back In Anger to find a play so thoroughly built around one character's pain and rage, and Seven Methods has some of that earlier play's power as well as some of its limitations.

By addressing Cleo's invective more at the culture that accepts all the values implicit in Jenner's celebrity than at the figurehead herself, Lee-Jones exposes how thoroughly ingrained and internalised racism and classism are, and by making it personal she keeps it visceral.

That is what ties the three strands of the play together. As Anonegro's readers begin to sense that she is attacking them as much as the celebrity, they begin to feel threatened and turn against her.

And as Cleo and Kora repeatedly get distracted by personal matters the way you treated me at that party when we were teenagers we sense that those are not distractions, but evidence of the cultural prejudices the play is about invading every corner of their lives.

Not only does Lee-Jones identify hitherto-unappreciated horrors of racism and give full voice to the pain they generate, but she does so with inventive and evocative eloquence.

Cleo and Kora have absorbed into their natural speaking voices both the alphabetic shorthand OMG, WTF, STFU of a generation more accustomed to speaking though their thumbs than their mouths, but also some of the rhythms and off-rhymes of rap 'You were desired, I was discarded, disregarded.'

The richness of the play's language, along with its raw emotions, may be too much for an audience to absorb, and you may find yourself in danger of shutting down from sensory overload.

Another limitation you'll begin to sense is that, as powerful as Lee-Jones's message is, she really says most of what she wants to say in the first twenty minutes or so, and then can only repeat herself, metaphorically shouting louder and louder, until she really has no place to go and no way to end it.

It is paradoxically evidence of Leanne Henlon's technique and control as a performer, and of the guidance of director Milli Bhatia, that she can allow her Cleo to swing so wildly in her seemingly uncontrollable passion, while Tia Bannon generously serves the play as straightman while also anchoring it in a solid contemporary reality.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review of Seven Methods Of Killing Kylie Jenner - Royal Court Theatre Online 2022