by Laura Kressly
Cleo has finally had enough of Kylie Jenner’s celebrity and with nowhere else to safely vent her frustrations, she takes to her anonymous Twitter account. After her first couple of tweets critiquing Kylie’s appropriation of Black culture, Cleo’s best friend Kara busts in when her concerned Whatsapps are ignored. Their ensuing discussion – that often descends into argument – also covers queerness, friendship, teenage offenses and indiscretions, and the long history of violence Black people have suffered at the hands of whites.
Because these young women have grown up online and their lives have been shaped by internet culture, a key element of the play’s script and staging is how the actors embody life online, and the lack of boundary between offline and on. In addition to the naturalistic conversation, their bodies distort into the exaggeration of emojis, GIFs, and Twitter functions. Leanne Henlon as Cleo and Tia Bannon as Kara deliver extraordinarily versatile performances endowed with conviction and passion. Their relationship is nuanced, full of love for each other but also long-held resentment from conflicts in their youth.
As remarkable as Jasmine Lee-Jones’ script is for its complex and sophisticated use of multiple styles and forms, and Milli Bhatia’s direction that employs sharp staging and clear vision, the design team also deserve commendation. Designer Rajha Shakiry and her associate designer Jemima Robinson have created a white, tree-like structure that snakes up one end of the set and over it. It’s imposing, and there’s something creeping about it, as if it were moss, or fungi, or something that sinks its roots into everything it touches, instead of a tree. There’s a sense it can consume the entire space – not unlike the anger and trauma these women hold, and the pressing need to acknowledge the forgotten and nameless Black women before them.
Without wanting to spoil too much, the metatheatrical ending holds as much power as the story that unfolds between Cleo and Kara. As engaging and often funny the play is until this point, the end shifts the attention onto the audience and holds us – the white audience members – accountable for perpetuating violence against Black and queer people, either overtly or through microagressions. The silence is uncomfortable, but a necessary moment of reflection on the themes that just unfolded.
seven methods of killing kylie jenner runs through 27 July.
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