Review - Girls & Boys starring Carey Mulligan at the Royal Court
Playwright Dennis Kelly has past form on shows featuring young girls, as he wrote the book for the musical version of Matilda (to Tim Minchin's score).
But the young daughter Leanne and her younger brother Danny remain unseen, except in their mother's fertile but painful imagination, in this deeply unsettling yet spellbinding new play. It is narrated entirely by the mother, played with ferocious concentration and harrowing anguish and intensity by Carey Mulligan.
Never mind that you can tell fairly early where this is heading, as she tells the story of her tangled relationship with the children's unseen father Liam, from how they met (in an Easyjet plane queue that two models try to jump) to how their relationship unravelled in the course of her suspicions that he was having an affair as his business was failing.
Though the destination may be sign-posted long before we get there, the journey is nevertheless both gruelling and gripping.
It's one of those plays where you could hear a pin drop as the audience collectively holds its breath for the dread moment when our suspicions will be confirmed.
Mulligan's control of this narrative arc is astonishing, and she is much aided by Lyndsey Turner's meticulous production, with its greyed-out domestic interior by Es Devlin into which a few colour splashes are gradually inserted.
It's not a comfortable play to watch - yet it’s impossible to look away. It is one of the acting achievements of the year so far.
Photo credit Marc Brenner
What the popular press said...
"It's a mouth-watering team and they do not disappoint in a piece that takes us on an extraordinary journey from clubby laughter to the bleak arctic wastes that lie on the other side of terrible tragedy."
Paul Taylor, the Independent (four stars)
"It’s a 90-minute monologue in which an unnamed woman recounts a relationship with a man, from its casual, hope-filled start to its ferocious, numbing finish. And if anyone was in any doubt that Mulligan, 32, is a phenomenal talent, here’s the proof in triplicate."
Dominic Cavendish, the Telegraph (five stars)
"Carey Mulligan has a luminous and unusual stage presence, an ability to seem both quiet and purposeful, both elfin and steely. In this tragicomic monologue by Dennis Kelly, her vivid and often conspiratorial performance makes her nameless character transfixing."
Henry Hitchings, Evening Standard (four stars)