Girls & Boys: Nikki Shiels delivers the performance of a lifetime

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Girls & Boys: Nikki Shiels delivers the performance of a lifetime

Girls & Boys
Jeff Busby
Review by James Robertson

Girls & Boys is a masterclass in how theatre can produce the antithesis of the human experience, conjuring up a thrilling rollercoaster of emotions that paint its themes and central character with more life than reality.

Written by British playwright Dennis Kelly, who penned the book of Tim Minchin’s Tony-award winning Matilda: The Musical, his script has seen fabulous success since its premiere in 2018 with Carey Mulligan in the West End. Dealing with themes of family degradation, love and divorce, it is a no-brainer for the Melbourne Theatre Company to take on this daring piece, directed by the wonderful Kate Champion.

Check out Melbourne’s latest stage shows and theatrical events here.

The stage is minimal and bare, evoking a family’s living room with far too much space for just one woman: almost dwarfing the two desks and couch within the open plan. Nikki Shiels, most recently notable as the performer behind the latest staging of The Picture of Dorian Gray, takes on another tour de force of monologic acting in this role. She expertly grips the audience from start to finish, never once letting up the intensity of her dedication to the character.

Dennis Kelly’s monodrama focuses on the life of one woman, who meets her husband-to-be in a raucous incident at an airport. From there, the love life they share together manifests into the perfect formation of the nuclear family: what could possibly go wrong?  

Beginning almost as a stand-up show, with Shiels detailing past, hilarious stories with expert timing and outrageous delivery, the play lulls you into a false sense of security that slowly diminishes as the cracks start to show. Girls & Boys truly shines in the way that it drip feeds information and foreshadowing across its one hour and fifty-minute runtime, culminating in the most heart-shattering of developments that you may see coming, but there’s no way to predict the tortuous feeling it creates. 

Sound and lighting are kept to a minimum so that it is almost as if you are trapped within the room with Shiels’ character so that there is no escaping her devastating story. As her unnamed character is a thriving documentary film-maker, she employs a projector at times to display her face, up close and personal, onto the wall behind her, drawing greater attention to the subtle changes she makes in her own character’s emotions, but also when shifting into another person’s skin. Shiels expertly transitions between other characters in the story without a degree of fanfare, seamlessly moving into the shoes of her husband and other characters in a way that doesn’t draw attention to this convention. 

The play is the epitome of why theatre is more important than ever, why the live experience of performance can never be replaced. Girls & Boys is a must-see play and Nikki Shiels delivers the performance of a lifetime here.

Buy tickets to Girls & Boys here.