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  • Kate Gaul

Girls and Boys

Girls and Boys by Dennis Kelly

Everest Theatre - Sydney Festival 2023

Various State Theatre Companies have vied to produce this electrifying work by British playwright Dennis Kelly and now the State Theatre Company of South Australia arrives at Seymour Centre for the Sydney Festival.

Evoking Euripides, Dennis Kelly presents an unnamed working-class woman (simply called Woman) who blags her way into the film industry, gets married and has two children. She and her husband build a life together, but it starts to crumble and is then brutally destroyed. This is a compelling 110 minutes of dramatic writing for a solo performer. There is a baleful side to Kelly’s work, from his 2003 debut, Debris, which featured a DIY crucifixion, through to DNA (about teenagers killing a classmate) to BBC’s brutally explicit thriller Utopia. Even his family shows, Matilda, and Pinocchio, have darker undertones. In Girls and Boys, he considers the unthinkable: family annihilation. This play is a treatise on masculinity and violence. Premiering in Britain in 2018 (with Carrie Mulligan in the role) it is a play that reflects a larger social movement. In one of the play’s key moments, Woman posits the idea that “We didn’t create society for men, we created it to stop men.”

Justine Clarke - a doyen of Australian theatre – dazzles in this production directed by Mitchell Butel. Justine Clarke’s effortless comic skills have us laughing loudly. The play is almost a sort of confessional stand up, to begin. It and the performance also take us into our imaginations as Woman mimes her absent family. Don’t cringe. It’s an extremely effective technique as this is ultimately a memory play. You’ll have to see it to find out why! Back to Justine Clarke – it’s a nuanced, moving, and skilled performance. What a treat to see a luminous Australian actor in an intelligent play. This is a portrait of a woman who must live with the consequences of a marriage gone wrong and, in a society riddled with normalised sexism and toxicity. And so, she re organises her memories, reimagines her past and at the same time has a laser recall for the details that brings her to us now. But is a world beyond the violence of men imaginable?

The production is everything you expect from a flagship company – impressive box set with colour grading from pink to blue (designer Ailsa Paterson); exquisite lighting (designer Nigel Levings) and a light touch composition and sound design (composer Alan John, sound designer Andrew Howard). Justine Clarke is gently amplified for this performance.

If you love great acting and solid writing, then do not miss this show!

Kate Gaul


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