Adelaide Festival

Festival Review: Girls & Boys

Funny, heart-warming in parts and ultimately gut-wrenching.


Presented by State Theatre Company South Australia
Reviewed 1 March 2022

State Theatre Company’s offering for Adelaide Festival 2022, Girls & Boys, sees Justine Clarke as the star of this funny, magnificent and gut-wrenching, solo performance.

Written by British playwright, Dennis Kelly, and directed by Mitchell Butel, the script is witty, insightful, real and ultimately horrific. Clarke inhabits the persona of the character described only as ‘woman’ and, not by accident, woman’s husband also goes nameless. The story, while individual to Clarke’s character, is universal, a point driven home by the nameless adult characters.

What starts out as a romance – a chance encounter at an airport between two funny and loveable characters (more kudos to Clarke here who portrays both) – leads to marriage, career changes and kids. A typical middle-class, suburban story, that Clarke performs to perfection.

From her post-teen, ‘slaggy’ days, to the enthusiastic first blush of new love, woman develops new self-confidence and pursues her career dreams. Meanwhile, his business, already successful when they met, starts to decline. Two children come along – first Leanne, then Danny. And, yes, naming these two characters who never appear on the stage other than through Clarke’s one-sided conversations with them, is also deliberate.

What starts out as the occasional disagreement, flirting with others at weddings, turns into a slide towards relationship end. And while this in itself is unremarkable, what follows is, fortunately, not as common. Just past the halfway point, this play takes a decidedly dark turn. The marketing materials do indicate that domestic violence is one of the themes, but they do not indicate how extreme this element of the story is.

For those who want to see this amazing work of art and experience Clarke’s astounding almost two-hour monologue without spoilers, stop reading here. For those of you who are more susceptible to issues of violence, be warned that this story contains the worst kind, provided in cold, graphic detail. While I don’t like to ruin the element of surprise for any performance, in this case I feel a warning is required. Look up the term ‘family annihilation’ for an overview of what this includes.

It’s important that society talks about these issues and does all it can to stop them, and this play was so astoundingly powerful that many members of the audience were in tears. Clarke deserved the standing ovation and three encores that she got and those who enjoy gritty, dark theatre will love this production. Just be prepared for terribly confronting material and perhaps take a hanky.

Reviewed by Samantha Bond
Twitter: @SamStaceyBond

Venue:  Odeon Theatre
Season:  25 February – 12 March 2022
Duration:  110 minutes
Tickets:  $30-90

Rating out of 5: 5

Photo Credit: Sam Roberts

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