Dennis Kelly’s Girls & Boys enjoyed a short run at London’s Royal Court Theatre in 2018, before transferring to an off-Broadway theatre in the Greenwich Village the same year. Kelly, perhaps best known for writing the book for Matilda The Musical, returns to a darker narrative for this solo play, which has been recorded as an Audible Original Studio Recording.
Carey Mulligan is the voice behind the unnamed character who, over the course of 100 minutes or so, recounts the story of her marriage, and the children who were a result of it. Mulligan also starred in both the London and New York productions, and in the absence of Es Devlin’s monochrome set or Oliver Fenwick’s lighting design, it falls entirely to Mulligan to weave this comedy that turns to tragedy.
The story flicks between retrospective revelations and life today. Those tales from the past are delightfully intriguing, told in such a way that they draw you in closer, waiting on the next juicy piece of information. How the woman met her husband in an EasyJet queue, or how she managed to blag her way in to a job as a documentary maker, all keep the audience hooked, and will probably elicit one or two laughs as well.
The conversations with her children, Leanne and Danny, initially seem less authentic. Occasionally drifting towards dull and repetitive, it’s a little like hanging on one end of the phone while your friend has a conversation with the kids, and you can only hear her voice, a situation perhaps better addressed on the stage.
The reason for the awkwardness of the conversations with the children becomes painfully obvious as the play progresses, indeed the writer himself reminds us that we are only hearing one side of the story. While Girls & Boys initially feels like a domestic drama, it goes on to attempt to examine the gender difference in violence. The theme is seeded not only in the marriage, but also through the woman’s work, and even to the children themselves; Danny wants to play war games, while Leanne is more creative and is destined for a career in architecture.
As director, Lyndsey Turner has ensured that little is lost by transposing this piece from the stage to an audio platform, Mulligan tells this story with a charm and intimacy that immediately beguiles the audience. When the key plot twist comes, it lands with a ferocious strike that will come as a shock to anyone who wasn’t expecting it.
Girls & Boys is a sensitively and intelligently written piece of drama, delivered with emotional impetus. The fact that it tells only one side of a particular story may bother some, while others may choose to focus more deeply on Kelly’s examination of how violence is coded in to male and female DNA. In either case, as a studio recording it holds its own, and may even create an affinity with its audience not possible in the staged production.