Earlier this year, award-winning actress Carey Mulligan made her return to the London stage in this new one-woman play by Dennis Kelly. It ran at the Royal Court from February until March and has now transferred across to New York’s Minetta Lane Theater for a limited engagement there.
Somehow it missed out on an Olivier Award nomination – granted, that particular group was very strong this year, but for whatever reason there were only four nominees in the Best New Play category (taken from a list of 39 eligible productions) as opposed to five competing for the Best New Musical award (taken from a slim list of 11 eligible productions). But I’m not going to go on another rant about the peculiarities of the Olivier nominations here.
I’m obviously saying that based on now having read the play – as well as from people’s reactions at the time, and knowing the calibre of both the writer and actor involved. Mulligan is, without doubt, one of my favourite actresses; she continues to surprise with the variety of roles she takes on (both stage and screen) and impresses every time.
I haven’t actually seen a lot of Kelly’s previous work, but I did really enjoy Pinocchio at the National – and Matilda is also a wonderful show. And I didn’t miss out on this particular play through want of trying! Yes, I was pretty busy during the few weeks it ran, but I did have spare evenings – I was just spectacularly bad at the Royal Court’s online day seats (though with that clunky system I can’t have been the only one). I’m also rubbish at sorting out tickets for anything at the Royal Court in advance of casting announcements, which I hope to amend in the future so I don’t keep missing out…
The play makes its way through a series of “chats” and “scenes”, told from the perspective of Mulligan’s unnamed character. It charts the way through her relationship with her husband, interspersed with scenes where she’s with their two children (Danny & Leanne); the relationship doesn’t start well (“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.”), but from this bad first impression springs admiration and eventual marriage. She had been travelling in Europe having become disillusioned with life and boring jobs, so upon their return she was starting from scratch – she fixed on the aim of becoming a development executive in the film industry, getting her foot in the door as a PA before starting her own production company. Her husband has a job he’s passionate about and successful at – what could possibly go wrong?
I have to admit, as I was reading rather than watching, the scenes ‘with’ the children did niggle at me a bit – I was trying to decide whether they did actually have child actors there (even though I knew it was a one-woman play) but with no spoken parts, or how the gaps where the children should be were managed and if this was acknowledged through performance. I imagined the latter as I read, trusting in any stage directions & notes, and that pays off when you reach one of the later “chats”. From then on everything takes a more sinister turn, and even thinking back to what’s happened previously starts to colour it in a completely different light – it almost makes you want to immediately re-read everything to see if you missed any hints, or simply to read it now you know the context in which this story is being told.
I see a fair amount of one-person shows, and it’s always interesting to see how they’re approached. Most often the ones I see are fringe productions, so it’s usually the bare minimum in terms of the setup – maybe the odd prop, or a backdrop – or if it’s in a bigger space you’re likely to get a bit more put in front of you (such as My Name Is Lucy Barton at the Bridge Theatre, with its hospital bed and multiple screens behind that change the scenery). It’s interesting to try and piece together exactly what Es Devlin provided in terms of set design; it seems like the “chats” are delivered with a blank background, and the “scenes” have a bit more of a set to play with. For this particular piece that makes a lot of sense, with the ‘children’ to consider – though in some solo shows having too much going on around the performer could end up a little distracting.
Since devouring the play text, I’m even more gutted that I missed out. (And when I heard about the New York transfer I was practically praying for it to be later in the year!) Not just because I can imagine how incredible Carey Mulligan’s performance must have been, but also because it’s a great piece of writing; a really engaging story told in a well thought out way. Sometimes you get the feeling that twists are added in just to try and force the story or make the structure a bit more original or interesting, but (for me) this flows perfectly through a compelling plot.
Girls & Boys
Photo credit: Marc Brenner
Girls & Boys has transferred to the Minetta Lane Theater, New York – it runs until 22 July 2018. Tickets are available online or from the box office. An audio version will be released through Audible on 27 June 2018.
Tags: #MissedTheBoat, Carey Mulligan, Dennis Kelly, Es Devlin, Girls and Boys, London, Minetta Lane Theater, New York City, Off Broadway, Off West End, review, Royal Court Theatre, theatreCategories: all posts, missed the boat, review, theatre
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