Royal Court (venue)
15 February 2018 (released)
19 February 2018
Carey Mulligan seems to be everywhere at the moment. She's a convincing detective in David Hare's BBC drama, 'Collatoral' as well as starring in the Royal Court's one woman show, 'Girls and Boys'. Mulligan never leaves the stage or stops talking for the hour and a half without an interval, moving from direct address monologues to mimed scenes with 'invisible children.' It's an extraordinarily challenging role with real bite from writer Dennis Kelly.
I have reservations about one actor shows, particularly when the one woman plays one character (it's a different story when the actor moves into different roles and voices). As Mulligan's character points out (she's very specific but given no name) her re-telling of the collapse of her marriage and horrifying violence that ensues is her own 'just one side' of the narrative. Mulligan is a master of the monologue, precise and engaging at all times but even she cannot escape the limitations of this single voice, as refreshing as that voice may be.
That's not to say she is entirely alone. The scenes with her 'invisible' children are sometimes amusing occasionally disconcerting and just as they become tiresome, Kelly pulls a clever trick (I won't spoil it). Then there's the character of her husband who looms large, albeit in the audience imagination. Mulligan's character leads us to believe that he couldn't bear her success but there is space to wonder how she failed to notice his spiral into depression after his own business fails. Without any window onto his reality we are left constructing our own, questioning how far to trust Mulligan's likeable character as her sharp wit morphs into the brittle tone of a survivor.
Kelly's fascination with violence, specifically male violence weaves it's way throughout the text, a warning bell that gradually increases in volume as the jokes fade. Statistics about violence inflicted on families are bleak and inescapable and her conclusion is brutal, 'We didn't create society for men, we created society to stop men.'
Like a stand-up comedian, Mulligan's character always appears to be in control. We catch glimpses of her profound rage but her pain is never on display. Instead it's gradually revealed through desperate attempts to re-write memories that have become unbearable. It is this dramatic subtlety that stays with you long after curtain down.