Milli Bhatia discusses bringing seven methods of killing kylie jenner back to the Royal Court
The award-winning piece returns this month
Jasmine Lee-Jones' seven methods of killing kylie jenner wowed when it first opened upstairs at the Royal Court – winning Lee-Jones a major dose of critical and awards praise. The piece now returns to the venue, playing in its larger space. Director Milli Bhatia explains what's new and what the process of resurrecting the piece post-Covid has taught her.
What's it like to be back in the rehearsal room?
There are seventeen women behind this show, and it is a joy to be collaborating with them again. There has been a lot of laughter. It feels like a great privilege to be making work.
How has the show changed since the last time it was on?
I became obsessed with observing the audience during the last run, particularly as many would simply talk back to the play. My observations informed a lot of how I think about the play now, and have found that re-examining what serves us and what I can reimagine or leave behind, as a useful approach for both the process and the production. Even though we first did the play two years ago, it feels like we we're working on an entirely new play for it now returns to such a different world, and the way we can relate to and talk about grief and rage has changed profoundly, as it will have for our audiences. There's also new material but I won't say more on that, you'll have to come and see it.
Jasmine Lee-Jones' text is written with GIFs, memes and tweets. How did you approach the text as a director?
In 2019 and in our pre pandemic world, I had a fascination with memetic theory, which borrows from Darwinian evolution theory, and suggests that memes behave as genes do. It was here that I was introduced to the comparison of the movement, reproduction, spread and re-appropriation of a tweet to that of a virus, in competition with each other as a means of survival. Considering the model of epidemiology, memes are the cultural equivalent of flu, transmitted through the communicational equivalent of sneezes. Interrogating the idea of the internet as sentient and infection spreading as a way of considering her tweets going viral, was a big influence on the vision and movement of the twitters. Movement director Delphine Gaborit and I were excited by the idea of the body as a host for gifs and memes, and our actors codeswitching between all the people that interact with Cleo's tweets. Physically embodying the internet is a statement about our agency and complicity in our actions online.
What's the biggest challenge about depicting the internet on stage?
They spread on a micro basis but their impact is macro, by means of repackaging or imitation. And Cleo argues that at the core of Kylie Jenner's success is the Black women she has imitated and profited from. We are so desentised to online abuse when disguised in a witty 140 characters or simply with a gif or meme, and I was interested by the idea of something that on face value seems funny, harmless and inoffensive but its very existence is violent, which is how Cleo speaks about Kylie. It is the brilliance of Jasmine's writing, the tweets are hilarious, its so easy to ignore the insidious violence underneath them. Delphine and I were interested in what would it really be like to see the people behind the troll accounts unmasked. The decision we made was not to demonise them but to simply present them as ordinary people, there is a real violence to that truth. We couldn't allow twitter to simply exist in a separate world and through a screen, its this cognitive dissonance that Cleo learns from in the play as she fails to forsee that her words online will have an impact in IRL. They had to exist in the same space. I see the internet as the sentient third character, and always present. Cleo is immersed in it as opposed to bearing witness to it, the threat doesn't end when she puts her phone down. There is a direction from Jasmine in the play that talks about the characters ‘glitching' as they begin to adopt acronyms and memes. I interpret this as the internet interrupting their world, infecting them.
The conception of the internet in the production is a forensic collaboration between myself, movement director Delphine Gaborit, designer Rajha Shakiry, sound designer Elena Pena and lighting designer Jessica Hung Han Yun. Our challenge was creating the sense of something ever present, the threat and volume always growing even when not acknowledged in the onstage action. It could never become inactive. I think about twitter as the third character in this play. Its sentient, amorphous, and very present. The characters are swallowed up by twitter and then spat out, which throughout the play becomes more relentless and encroaches on their world until Cleo is longer in control of it.
Perhaps the biggest challenge of the internet lies with the actors in this production. It's about codeswitching and dropping into different, distinct characters that represent the growing volume of voices interacting with Cleo's viral tweet from all over the world, with the relentless speed of a twitter thread. Watching Leanne and Tia so generously and fearlessly dive head first into it is an extraordinary thing.
Can you talk a bit about what the play says about real and online personas and relationships?
The play so sharply taps into the cognitive dissonance many experience in failing to understand that actions online have real life repercussions. The internet is a space that Cleo, tweeting anonymously, feels she is empowered but it ends up unmasking her and upholding the same structures that oppress her IRL.
She is able to flit between personas, to wear the mask she wants to according to the world she is in. Jasmine and I have talked about the duality of that extending to both her online/offline persona as well as her navigation of the world as a Black woman. I think a lot of PoC are good at flitting between personas, it's a means of survival.
Why do you think the show has resonated with so many people?
I'm reminded of something that Jasmine once said to me that also resonates with what I felt when I read the very first draft, which is that ultimately, this is a play about love. It's about two friends learning how to love themselves as they navigate their love for each other, and about the messiness and intricacies of female friendship. Tia Bannon (Kara) gave me All About Love by Bell Hooks when we made the play two years ago, and I've found myself coming back to it again. Hooks says "The essence of true love is mutual recognition-two individuals seeing each other as they really are." That to me is Cleo and Kara.
The piece has £12 tickets available every Monday throughout the run, online from 9am.