‘seven methods of killing kylie jenner’ breaks the dramatic mold in this hauntingly relevant play
TL; DR: OMG, seven methods of killing kylie jenner is the must-see play of the summer. IMO, you should go see this show RN.
(Please read, though. You'll want to know more about this achingly powerful show.)
Jasmine Lee-Jones's searing social commentary of a play weaves the language of the Internet (see above) with the topical-yet-timeless topics like appropriation, cancel culture, and the monetization of fame. The play is framed and structured as a Twitter thread after the titular Jenner was declared the youngest self-made billionaire.
A young Cleo (a powerful Leanne Henlon) sits, with her friend Kara (Tia Bannon in an excellent emotional performance), listing out the ways she would like to see Kylie's death, frustrated by the model/entrepreneur's public praise for claiming Black culture and beauty as her own for profit and being celebrated for leveraging her family fortune into more wealth.
Each section starts with a sort of supernatural, stylized Twitter rant wherein Cleo shares a detailed murder fantasy — drowning, immolation, poison — and then the performers take on the personas of Twitter trolls lambasting her for her provocative statements. Everyone is hiding their feelings and insecurities behind these 240 characters.
The characters, too, are hiding. Between each mini Twitter storm, which have a supernatural avant garde quality thanks to Elena Peña's sound design and Jessica Hung Han Yun and Amy Mae's lighting design, the friend's hash it out and really expose the complexity of the issues they're trying to combat.
Kara is coming into her own as a young lesbian, while Cleo is struggling to see herself as desirable while men consistently flock to women who fit an unrealistic beauty ideal or might be fairer skinned like her friend, even though Kara does not even want the attention. The characters must face their own shortcomings and prejudices, and while Cleo feels safe behind her anonymous Twitter profile @incognegro, she is also just as exposed as her haters.
Lee-Jones's language is pure modern poetry, pulling from social acronyms to cultural slang, and the syllabic nature of tweets feel like stanzas rather than lines of dialogue. Director Milli Bhatia has captured the essence of the play in her experimental-yet-grounded production that serves the adventurous narrative form, completed by designer Rajha Shakiry's dynamic set.
The powerful finale feels like an ancestor of Jackie Sibblies Drury's Pulitzer-winning Fairview, as Lee-Jones examines who is the watched and who is doing the watching — online, on the streets, and onstage. No one is safe from criticism — conscious that I am saying this while literally writing a review — and the lines of feedback go both ways. Lee-Jones does not shy away from any difficult topics, and digs into the nuance of the complicated culture we find ourselves in.
The play had a sold-out, widely acclaimed world premiere in 2019, and it's clear why the Royal Court has brought the production back to reopen its spaces. This is exactly the kind of theatre we need to be seeing right now: a truly topical, adventurous production that simultaneously elicits laughter, tears, and conscious social thought. You won't be able to leave without wanting to immediately discuss it after. If art is truly a vehicle for social change, we can only hope that plays like this are the engine.
seven methods of killing kylie jenner is running at the Royal Court through 27 July.
Photo credit: Tia Bannon and Leanne Henlon (Photo by Myah Jeffers)
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