Venue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Jan 5 – 15, 2023
Playwright: Dennis Kelly
Director: Mitchell Butel
Cast: Justine Clarke
Images by Sam Roberts
The play is at first incredibly banal, with a woman beginning to tell her life story, with no hint of how her experiences may be of any significance or consequence, to anyone but herself. For almost an hour, the unnamed character in Dennis Kelly’s Girls & Boys tries to beguile her audience with mildly amusing tales of love, family and career, only to come across strangely oblivious to the increasingly ordinariness of what she is sharing. A bombshell is dropped however, in the middle of the show, and everything changes drastically.
Kelly’s writing does not begin at the point of trauma, choosing instead to take an inordinate length of time to set the stage, in order to convey a sense of everyday mundanity, before unleashing its drama of catastrophic proportions. It is arguable if the phenomenon of normative domesticity requires such intricate definition, but there is no questioning the theatrical efficacy of the tension and agony that subsequently surfaces. Girls & Boys takes a while to get to its point, but what it wishes to say about gender is certainly valuable.
Mitchell Butel’s direction of the piece is unremittingly sensitive, able to create resonance in every moment, whether they be simple or vivid. For almost two hours, our attention is held entirely captive, even when nothing particularly substantial seems to be happening. Set design by Ailsa Paterson is colourful and curvaceous, helpful in keeping our eyes animated and engaged. Lights by Nigel Levings and sound by Andrew Howard, are elegantly, and sparingly, utilised to manipulate atmosphere, for a show that speaks in nuance.
Performer Justine Clarke is flawless in this one-woman show, so impressively enamouring with her talent, dedication and skill, that we almost disregard the big messages of the show itself. Clarke’s work is thorough and deep, yet it never feels laboured, and along with an exceptional charm, we find ourselves completely absorbed, in everything she wishes to impart.
What Girls & Boys says about gender, is worth repeating, and has certainly been said time and time again. The woman in the play, would have heard those messages of admonishment many times, before encountering the devastating events that will eventually shape her entire life. We can tell each other everything about these profound truths, yet it seems it is in our nature, to only learn from first-hand experience, these hardest lessons of life.