Girls & Boys
Royal Court Theatre, London
These days Carey Mulligan is better known as a film and television star, but in Girls & Boys, a fine one-woman play by Dennis Kelly she returns to the theatre in which she made her stage debut in 2004, and a wonderful return it proves to be.
Elegant in tan trousers and a mustard coloured shirt she plays the mother of two, a television film maker, married to a man who sells antique wardrobes. She tells about her life as a single woman and how she met her husband. The anonymous pastel blue box set from which she harangues the audience disappears and we are in her home where she copes with her kids and every day life. It is still, however, all pastel shades as it is her version of her world, and then shockingly and briefly colour floods the set and it is the real world. We never see the children, a seven-year old girl and a five-year-old boy. Mulligan has to conjure them up literally out of the air and she does it brilliantly.
Girls & Boys is a funny, cleverly observed tale – at first. But Kelly has other things in mind. As Mulligan carries on, things take a deeply disturbing turn. This is a marriage in crisis, a family facing dangers. The almost stand-up routine at the start, with the audience being talked to and prodded, turns into a horror story about success and failure and revenge into which the audience is ruthlessly drawn.
Mulligan delivers what one has call a tour de force, designer Es Devlin has come up with an amazing setting for the story she tells, Kelly has crafted the monologue immaculately and director Lyndsey Turner has put the pieces together perfectly. The result is as triumphant an evening as there has been on this celebrate stage with an actress stretching her talents to the limit.