Over the years, I have witnessed many thought-provoking productions at the hands of the Melbourne Theatre Company. Many of these productions have left me thinking about them for a long time after I have left the theatre. The latest offering from this theatrical powerhouse is from the Tony Award Winning British playwright Dennis Kelly with a play titled, Girls & Boys.
This play is unlike anything I have ever seen before. A one woman show with the incredible Nikki Shiels at the helm, Girls & Boys is the life story of a young woman discovering who she is. We begin to hear her journey as she travelled to Europe and lived the party lifestyle. The recounting of her experiences was told in a way that had the audience laughing. It was like we were just chilling at a dinner party and our friend was boasting about her conquests on her holiday. It was fun!
Before long, the woman (whose name we never know) tells of how she met her husband, lands her dream career opportunity, and starts a family. As the show went on, the wheels start to fall off and eventually takes a harrowing turn that unfortunately is all too common.
The staging of this production is very simple, yet very effective, and perfectly suited for the Fairfax Studio at Arts Centre Melbourne. Upon entering the space, there is a lone couch with a coffee table, and an office desk and chair at the back. However, it was the video camera tripod and projector that had me intrigued. It was not long before I got to see it in use. Shiels used this pairing when entering a segment of the story that demanded the audience’s full attention, and wow, it was extremely effective.
Shiels looks directly down the barrel of the camera with the image projected onto the blank wall at the rear of the stage, giving the effect of her talking directly to every single member of the audience. The paring of camera and projector were also used when Shiels slipped into multiple characters, highlighting her incredible ability to portray varied roles with ease. A change in the gaze into the camera, a slight tilt of her head and even the gritting of her teeth along with a change in vocal tone. These subtle yet effective changes in body language are only enhanced by the large projected image.
If the camera and projector were not already effective enough, Girls & Boys also contains incredible and subtle changes in lighting as Shiels slips from a retelling of a story to a re-enactment of her past. The lighting changed from a bright and cool lit stage to a much deeper and warmer tone. This switch between the cool and warm tones perfectly matched the mood shift from present day storytelling to the heart-warming memories of spending time with her loved ones. The show would not be anywhere near as effective without these design choices by lighting designer, Amelia Lever-Davidson.
Whilst the storytelling was interesting and, at times, funny, the show almost lost me halfway. As mentioned earlier, it is like hearing the stories of your friend’s holiday after they return home. But there is always a point where you have heard enough, and this is exactly how I felt. Right up until the story started to take a turn down a dark path, it pulled me right back in. Yet, nothing would ever have prepared me for the harrowing gut punch that I felt at the end. I feel this may have been intentional, to drag the audience along with all sunshine and rainbows, and then bam, we are knocked for six. All I can say is that it was shocking, and the recount of events were so graphically detailed that I sat stunned in my seat. Never have I ever felt this way at the end of a show.
Just as I was stunned by the conclusion of this production, I was equally as stunned by the performance of Nikki Shiels. She is absolutely phenomenal in her role. Afterwards, I was thinking back at the amount of dialogue that Shiels must run through over almost 1 hour and 50 minutes. I mean, I can barely remember to buy my groceries without checking my list every time I enter a new aisle. Not once did Shiels fumble, stutter or get stuck on a line. She was flawless. And if that already was not impressive enough, the strength that she needs to perform such a harrowing piece night after night is truly impressive. If I am still shaken by the conclusion of this show after one night, I cannot even begin to imagine what it would be like to perform it.
The main take way I have from this production is that whilst I was shocked by what occurred in the storyline, I was not surprised at the same time. And that makes me sad.
Girls & Boys is unlike any show I have seen before, and I want to thank the Melbourne Theatre Company, director Kate Champion, and band of creatives for bringing this story to Melbourne audiences. The production is bold, brave, brilliant, smart, and tackles the biggest issue facing families the world over, family violence.
As shocking as the ending is, it is also extremely educational. After the show. I found myself talking with friends about what just happened and had me thinking about what I can do to try and prevent these cowardly actions from happening again. If anything, as confronting as it is, everyone should see Girls & Boys, not only for the fantastic performance by Nikki Shiels and the mind-blowing conclusion, but for the knowledge you’ll attain once the show is over.
If not clear from the comments already mentioned, this production deals with content that some may find distressing. If you, or anyone you know needs help, there are a range of organisations that you can reach out to. Such as, 1800 RESPECT, Beyond Blue, and Lifeline, with more listed in the show’s digital programme.
Girls & Boys is on now at Fairfax Studio, Arts Centre Melbourne with performances running until the 26th of November. Like many MTC productions, there are forum nights on the 31st of October and 7th of November that hold a conversation with the creative team after the show.
For more information on Girls & Boys including tickets and links to the support services listed, visit:
Photography by Jeff Busby.