Girls & Boys review: Carey Mulligan is devastating in this one-woman play ★★★★

The Suffragette and Great Gatsby actress makes a rare stage appearance in Dennis Kelly's unflinching play

Carey Mulligan in Girls & Boys at the Royal Court Theatre

14 years ago, Carey Mulligan made her professional debut at London’s Royal Court Theatre at the age of 19. Since then she’s bagged a Bafta, conquered Hollywood and become one of Britain’s most feted film stars, and she’s currently proving equally magnetic on the small screen in BBC2’s Collateral.

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So Mulligan could afford to rest on her laurels, but instead she’s returned to the Royal Court to perform a new one-woman play by Dennis Kelly, the man behind Matilda the Musical and Channel 4’s cult thriller Utopia.

She plays a woman who falls for a “thick-brained, lard-synapsed c**k-head” in an Easyjet queue, recounting their passionate love affair and how her life falls neatly into place: she embarks on a successful career in documentary-making, she’s gets pregnant.

Her breezy narrative is interrupted by scenes in which she chastises her invisible young children. Is she imagining them or is it a theatrical device? Either way, something is clearly amiss.

Kelly keeps the audience guessing while his heroine elucidates the central theme: violence and how it stalks society’s ragged edges. “I think a lot about violence,” she says early on. “I just think it’s such a fundamental part of our species that how can you understand us without understanding it.”

Carey Mulligan in Girls & Boys
Carey Mulligan in Girls & Boys

Mulligan has the audience in the palm of her hand from the get-go, her trademark half-smile playing on her lips. She makes the most of Kelly’s hilariously vulgar and visual script, gleefully impersonating her husband and her straight-talking boss. Kelly lays on the working-class swagger a bit thick, but Mulligan manages to imbue her character with authenticity.

90 minutes is a long time for a one-person play with no interval, but Mulligan is more than equal to the challenge. She’s utterly devastating.

Girls & Boys is at the Royal Court until 17 March

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You can book tickets for West End plays from the Radio Times Box Office