Girls & Boys, written by Dennis Kelly and directed by Lyndsey Turner, first premiered earlier this year with the Royal Court Theatre in London and has how made its way across the pond in its American debut at the Minetta Lane Theatre. Produced by Audible, a recording of the play will be available following its June 27 opening. Lucky for us, that this production is recorded and available to savor.
I can say without hesitation that Carey Mulligan, the BAFTA Award winner and Academy and Tony Award nominee, is one of the best actresses of her generation, particularly after she commanded the stage entirely on her own during Girls & Boys. There wasn’t a moment in her performance that Mulligan lost focus or intensity, whether it was detailing the evolution of her relationship to her husband or the scenes woven throughout this extended monologue, acting out memories with her children. I could put ‘acting’ in quotations, because no one accompanied her onstage, but that would diminish how truly difficult a task it is to act as if someone is there, but no one is: listening, parenting, reacting. If that isn’t acting, what is?
Mulligan is remarkable. Throughout her performance, it is almost as if she wills the children to life, animated before our eyes, like when her daughter Leanne brings a bucket of mud into the house or her son Danny plays with food in his highchair. It is masterful. There is a scene in particular where Leanne goes missing momentarily in a crowded mall is a staggering feat of acting. We can supplement everything that is not there—Leanne, Danny, passerby, and concerned parents—Mulligan so effortlessly builds the nightmare of losing a child and being reunited with her while alone onstage.
Throughout Girls & Boys, there are flags to the horrific act Mulligan prepares us for in telling her story. Initially, Mulligan is comparable to a standup comedian, detailing her wild mid-twenties, meeting her husband, and falling in love. Better known for her nuanced, more dramatic acting, Mulligan has serious comedic timing and abilities. She is hilarious; it feels as if she is conversing with you, this no-nonsense Londoner having a drink with her friends. Details of her work in documentaries and allusions to violence are revealed that do not necessarily foreshadow what will happen but show just how easily warning signs can be overlooked, just how common this ‘uncommon’ occurrence is. Before confessing the truth, she prepares us— “I want you to remember two things: remember that this did not happen to you, and that it is not happening now. Alright?”
Before her confession, Mulligan acknowledges that she is aware her children are not with her. She explains that she is recreating memories with just Danny and Leanne, not wanting to include her husband, her ex-husband, the man she never calls by name. Without spoiling the ending, which would tarnish the telling, the memories, and the retroactive reflection of events before it—see it or go listen on Audible!—Girls & Boys brings a difficult subject to light, one that is supported by reality and facts. It is a necessary conversation that begins as one-sided, for which we are compelled to answer.