Girls & Boys: a Melbourne theatre review by Alex First

October 28, 2022 by Alex First
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A sharp and witty British woman unpicks her life before our eyes and what a life it has been.

Nikki Shiels stars in Girls & Boys Photo: Jeff Busby

It has included the highest of highs and the lowest of lows.

She explains how she met her one true love, her husband, in a queue at an Italian airport and what came before him, not all of it to be proud of.

She speaks of his successful career and how it started … of finding her own life’s calling.

Then it was that she juggled her job with the couple’s children, the elder a daughter and the other a son.

As with all kids, they could be quite a handful.

And then things changed … irrevocably.

If the above description sounds mundane, I assure you the play is anything but, although to provide any more detail would be to reveal too much.

Suffice to say that Girls & Boys is bold and ferocious and funny and eye-opening.

It has been brilliantly written by Dennis Kelly (who also wrote the book for Matilda The Musical, which won him a Tony Award) and skilfully performed by Nikki Shiels.

In fact, it is a tour de force showing by Shiels, whose delivery style is particularly engaging.

She is on stage by herself for all 110 minutes without an interval in what is a most demanding, emotionally draining role.

The storyline doesn’t follow a linear narrative, as Shiels switches between various time frames in her character’s journey.

One minute she is relaying her soon-to-be husband’s interaction with two models, and the next, she gets down and dirty in explaining details of her own overindulgence.

Of course, the children more than once test her patience (and we see that play out), while she and her hubby have a wonderful meeting of minds … until they don’t.

Shiels shifts the mood time and again without missing a beat.

Always eloquent in imparting the perspective of the female protagonist, she is detailed and descriptive, emotive and, at times, vulgar.

With a minimalist stage setting, all is reliant upon her superior acting acumen, which she consistently brings to the fore.

On occasions, she videotapes herself interacting with others, and that dialogue is projected onto a blank wall.

What starts out as an extremely amusing monologue becomes mighty powerful and deeply affecting.

Director Kate Champion ensures the pacing keeps the action moving and ever-changing.

Girls & Boys is a very special production that is richly compelling theatre.

It is playing at Fairfax Studio, Arts Centre Melbourne, until 26th November 2022. 

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