presented by Here for Now Theatre in association with Crow’s Theatre
“We didn’t create society for men, we created it to stop men.” This provocative, potentially antagonistic statement comes late in the game; by then, though, it will feel more frank than inflammatory.
When we first meet our unnamed narrator, we like her a lot, but something is… off. She addresses us directly, her smile bright and genuine. She’s stylish and comfortable in her efficient, grey-green jumpsuit. The outfit seems vaguely… militaristic? Is it her posture? It’s hard to parse whatever’s lurking beneath her affable poise.
At the opening of Girls & Boys, we are charmed by this women despite a nagging sense of murky anticipation. Fiona Mongillo is endearing and sincere as she bonds with the audience—through humour, at first—yet the environment she creates is very controlled. Early on, we can’t know why, but she needs this to be so light and crisp.
She begins with a chance airport meeting with the man that will become her husband. At first blush, he seems dull and dumb, but after witnessing his blunt, piercing take down a pair of vacuous opportunists, she’s impressed. There’s a whirlwind of carnal intensity before they settle down in a house with some kids.
From here, the story seems a bit meandering. We’re with her, completely, and her monologue conjures a vivid sense of people and place, but we really can’t—or won’t—intuit what she’s heading towards, if anything.
With grace and wit, she tells us about their promising careers—he’s an antique furniture dealer, she’s a documentary producer. Dennis Kelly’s text weaves in motivic allusions to male and female dynamics that subtly examine forms of control. Their relationship, which eventually goes sour, is at the forefront. The contrasting personalities of her son and daughter also figure prominently. An eccentric academic’s theoretical social model—designed to limit men’s power in society—is an intriguing anecdote.
The direct address segments are broken up by memory sequences where she interacts with the children. Director Lucy Jane Atkinson and lighting designer Stephen Degenstein elegantly juxtapose these two distinct theatrical modes with the colour temperature of the light and the relative tightness of Mongillo’s body language.
There is a deliberate warmth in her scenes with the children. The domestic chaos of their antics test her patience, but she is confident, assertive and accommodating. There is something almost too precise about her mimed interactions, a heightened intentionality that feels important. And why isn’t her husband in these memories?
When she speaks to us, the light is distinctly cooler. This chill creeps into her marriage too. Even if you are unfamiliar with this play, you’ll sense the darkness gradually seeping into their once healthy partnership. She interprets signals, leaps assuredly to a conclusion, but the truth of the situation is so much more cataclysmic than she or the audience have anticipated.
We think back to the gentle, consistent foreshadowing throughout and this brutal finale feels almost inevitable, like a Greek tragedy. The sharp writing and Mongillo’s forthright delivery are arresting. There is harrowing precision in every awful detail, but the clinical distance she maintains is comforting.
The austerity of Bonnie Deakin’s set contributes greatly to an institutional aesthetic. The plain platform and empty back wall, the nondescript chair and side table suggest normalcy, but there’s an artificiality to it that makes sense when we finally have context.
From the off-the-cuff, insightful observations to her final, devastating lecture, Mongillo has us firmly in her grip and we trust her. Despite the protective delusion she’s fostered, she is, paradoxically, a portrait of clarity and conviction. Only once, near the very end, does she let the trauma catch in her throat. It is a telling moment that passes quickly, but resonates long afterward.