SEVEN METHODS OF KILLING KYLIE JENNER
by Jasmine Lee-Jones
directed by Milli Bhatia
Royal Court Theatre – until 27July
Channelling your white hot rage into a work of art is an incredibly powerful act, and it feels like that is exactly what Jasmine Lee-Jones has done in this ambitious, dynamic piece. Ostensibly, it’s the story of a somewhat complicated female friendship: mixed race, gay Kara has little respect for Black, straight Cleo’s romantic choices, and still holds a degree of resentment over Cleo’s misjudged handling of Kara’s coming out. Set against the overwhelming maelstrom of social media, it also covers gender identity, the dehumanisation online relationships can result in, and the fetishism of Black bodies, both in the present day and throughout history.
It’s A LOT: an abrasive, dazzlingly original text peppered with modern cultural references, home truths and uncomfortable historical information. It’s not hard to see why this was such a sensation when it premiered at the smaller Upstairs theatre in 2019 and has now been brought back for a Main House run, where it still packs a hell of a punch.
It’s also often extremely funny. Lee-Jones has created salty, splendid dialogue for these two women, the kind of things that only people who truly know each other can say, often shocking, frequently wounding and sometimes suffused with the most wonderful affection. She also gets great comic mileage out of juxtaposing Cleo’s politically astute, incendiary ranting with sudden moments of relatable deflation: one moment she’s, with good reason, berating men, the next she’s baldly announcing “I’m craving dick”.
Ingeniously, Lee-Jones -and Leanne Henlon, the superb actress playing Cleo- creates a character who feels fully credible expressing both of those things…she always seems like a real person, not just a mouthpiece. At one point Kara (Tia Bannon, beautifully realising the combination of sweetness and street-tough in this tremendously likeable young woman) says to Cleo “just speak English….not dissertation” and the wonderful thing about this script is that it has it both ways: yes Cleo does do that, but you buy every moment of it.
You also buy every moment of Cleo’s online cataloguing the seven ways she envisions murdering Kylie Jenner, and it’s pretty unpleasant ….until a powerful speech near the conclusion where it becomes clear that what she’s describing is no worse than the fate of South African abductee Sarah Baartman, paraded around Europe in the late 18th Century as some sort of human curiosity before dying mysteriously at the age of twenty six.
There are also tender moments, gently handled, and there is something very moving hearing an audience of predominantly Black women responding audibly to Cleo’s speech about her Grandmother rubbing her nose not, as she initially thought, out of affection but in a vain attempt to make it smaller so that young Cleo would have an easier time of it if she could only conform to more conventional, i.e. white, perceptions of physical beauty.
Milli Bhatia’s production, played out under an immense stringed canopy by Rajha Shakiry like an art-installation representing all the strands of the internet but also the mental and physical bondage of Black women down the centuries as it bears down and closes in on Cleo when the play gathers pace, comes at us with a ferocious energy. I wish there was more clarity in the cacophonous sections where innumerable online voices crowd in to comment, mock, abuse or approbate, and the muddied, deafening sound design doesn’t help. The production, exciting as it is, doesn’t fully represent the published script, much of which is ‘written’ as a collage of gifs, memes and internet slang. Maybe a screen would help? I admired the piece as I was watching it but I understood it better reading it on the tube on the way home.
Jasmine Lee-Jones is a hell of a writer though, and seven methods of killing kylie jenner is a work of rare originality and intellect.