Did critics play happy families with Carey Mulligan in Girls & Boys?
Carey Mulligan stars in Dennis Kelly's new play at the Royal Court
Sarah Crompton, WhatsOnStage
"Mulligan plays it with the skill and timing of a stand-up comic. But there's something in her eyes, some sadness behind the smiles, that make you realise this is not going to be a fairy tale of romance fulfilled. It is after all, a play by Dennis Kelly."
"It will spoil your experience of this fine play if I reveal what Kelly deliberately holds back...What I can say is that it is profoundly upsetting and serious but conveyed with the same precision of language and delivery as the more entertaining elements. "This is the hard bit," says Mulligan, described only as the performer, as her face sets and her hands fall to her sides. All animation drains from her as she talks to a silent theatre in matter-of-fact tones.
"This is an extraordinary performance. Her work on television and film makes it easy to forget what a charismatic stage actress Mulligan is, full of understanding of the way that a flex of the neck can convey the movement of a supermodel, or a quick turn of the head suggest a heart that is broken.
Michael Billington, The Guardian
"Carey Mulligan occupies the stage alone for 90 minutes in Dennis Kelly's new play and charts with consummate skill the disintegration of a relationship. She is a joy to watch; only later did I find myself asking serious questions of the play itself.
"This alternation of confessional chat and pressurised domesticity continues throughout the piece. Mulligan is brilliant at engaging with the audience and charting the gradations of the relationship with the husband.
"Kelly, lately associated with family shows such as Matilda and Pinocchio, returns to a theme that haunted much of his earlier work: the nature of violence. Here he is particularly concerned with whether it is built into the male gender's DNA."
Dominic Cavendish, The Telegraph
"Dennis Kelly's latest – alas already sold-out thanks to Carey Mulligan's star power – is more substantial, enthralling and demanding than that. It's a 90-minute monologue in which an unnamed woman recounts a relationship with a man, from its casual, hope-filled start to its ferocious, numbing finish. And if anyone was in any doubt that Mulligan, 32, is a phenomenal talent, here's the proof in triplicate.
"She proves a born storyteller, getting us to hang on every word; she displays spot-on comic timing too, every articulate hand-gesture and wry arch of her delicate eyebrows contributing; and she further succeeds in taking us to the darkest recesses of human behaviour without a jot of sensationalism."
"Girls and Boys is the title, and that's enough to spark thoughts in your head about the ramifications of these apparently innocuous scenes. To what extent are the seeds of injurious gender division sown here, in childhood "play"?"
Alice Saville, Time Out
"If Carey Mulligan fancied a second career as a stand-up comedian she'd totally nail it. Dennis Kelly's new play is a perfect vehicle for her compelling mix of composure, nervy energy and deadpan wit."
"Her autobiographical monologues are broken up by gentler, but unromanticised scenes, where she plays with her invisible children. Kelly wrote Matilda and it just about shows here, as she hilariously tries to handle her precocious daughter, an architectural savant who's trying to craft The Shard from mud. And her son, who wants to smash everything up."
"Lyndsey Turner's production is a knock-out, too: Es Devlin's set design is all uncompromising ice blue, like the woman it swirls around can only dredge up the painful outlines of her former life, not the colours. It transitions, fast, from kitchen to street to void, with a kind of unstoppable power that mirrors Kelly's uncompromising text, and Mulligan's equally uncompromising delivery."
"Mulligan's unshaking, still commitment to her performance feels like a kind of activism. Her every stressed word is telling you that this stuff is real, it matters, and she's deploying every drop of charisma to make you listen."
Dominic Maxwell, The Times
"Carey Mulligan is on sharp form as a mother with an awful story to tell in this new monologue by Dennis Kelly. For the last 15 minutes of the show, in particular, she conveys an acre of emotion by vacuum-sealing that emotion.
"Mighty though Mulligan is, though, Girls & Boys is an oddly structured and not entirely convincing evening. Its first 75 minutes are rambling and only really serve as a long set-up. Kelly, the writer of Matilda the Musical, is burying the stuff of Greek drama in the stuff of apparently aimless anecdotes about career and meeting the right bloke and having kids. He's buried it too deeply, even if the tactic makes sense when you look back and realise what all those stories add up to."
"Lyndsey Turner serves it all up in an elegant production in which Mulligan lends deceptively casual aplomb to her stories of lust turning to settled love turning to potential divorce...The design, by Es Devlin, is stunningly good. We see the room in full colour one second, sealed in the same mint white the next. A few colourful objects are introduced to echo the maroon slacks and muddy orange top that Mulligan is wearing. Wow."
Paul Taylor, The Independent
"It's a mouth-watering team and they do not disappoint in a piece that takes us on an extraordinary journey from clubby laughter to the bleak arctic wastes that lie on the other side of terrible tragedy. The show is jolly, then it punches you in the gut and it sends out a feminist message of shocking power. Mulligan's performance retains a moving openness through all these difficult changes of tone. "
"Kelly's play powerfully roots this in male psychology and Mulligan is superb at suggesting a woman struggling to maintain her composure so that can she meet us on this desolate ground with the facts and her thoughts about the matter. Her clarity and her little pained pauses are quietly harrowing. "
"Kelly convinces you that the husband, like many men, is a disaster waiting to happen and because the energy and vividness of the writing never let up. A remarkable return for Mulligan. "
Girls & Boys runs at the Royal Court until 17 March.