Review by Stephanie Lee
Opening night of MTC’s Girls & Boys in the Fairfax Studio closed with a well-deserved standing ovation and three bows. The play written by Dennis Kelly is witty, yet intense as it explores family drama from the perspective of a hurting woman slowly unravelling more layers.
Without spoiling any of the play’s incredibly smart and carefully paced plot, Girls & Boys is about a woman who explores the phases in her life that lead to her finding love and settling down. Her life follows the usual trajectory- job, husband, and kids. However, this is all uprooted by an unexpected turn of events that ruins everything.
The set design by Romanie Harper was simple, yet effective with a clean wooden floor, couch, desk, and a few chairs around the place. The few pieces were used in interesting ways throughout the piece, allowing Nikki to transform the space as she relived memories before the audience. The design also wasn’t cluttered, meaning that the focus was really on the strength of performance and text more than surrounding environment. It also allowed for the storytelling to traverse place and time in a convincing way.
The sound by Sidney Millar and lighting by Amelia Lever-Davidson both worked to transition between memory and storytelling, creating a tension between the two states and foreshadowing the turn to come. The lighting was highly naturalistic in most states with a sunlight quality to it, except for moments of memory that had a darker hue.
By far the standout of the show was Nikki Shiels power as a performer. Holding the attention of an audience by yourself for an hour and fifty minutes is no easy feat but Shiels made it look easy. Not only was she incredibly funny, relaxing into the comedic moments but she was also energetically intense in moments of unease in an incredibly captivating and nuanced way. The range of her performance in the show is truly phenomenal and more than proves her prowess as an actor. There are also several moments of mime woven throughout which could have easily been terribly handled, however, Shiels executes them charmingly and as an audience we were able to invest in their function.
Similarly, Kate Champion’s direction of the text must be commended as the highs and lows are well balanced, engaging the audience for the full show and keeping the unknown present in every moment. While the performance and staging overall was undoubtedly good, there were moments where Nikki Shiels’ taping herself was projected onto the wall through a live camera that didn’t quite make fit with the rest of the vision. I think that if the live cinema elements had been committed to more they might have worked, but they really weren’t needed as Shiels’ performance did all the detail that we wanted.
Girls & Boys does not disappoint and certainly is one not to miss- with clever writing and a stunning performance it is theatre done well!
Image Credit: Jeff Busby