The digital-first approach to the first coronavirus lockdown has done wonders for this revival of Jasmine Lee-Jones’ seven methods of killing kylie jenner following a sell-out run in 2019. The memes still feel current, the commentary as sharp and thought-provoking as ever. This is Internet culture at its most electric and exhilarating.
And it all starts with a tweet. Cleo (Leanne Henlon), using an anonymous Twitter account, proclaims that she wants to kill the Keeping Up with the Kardashians star, after seeing a Forbes article claiming that the TV personality is the “youngest self-made billionaire” at the age of 21. “She’s about as self-made as my bed,” she vents to her friend (and, essentially, sounding board) Kara, played by Tia Bannon . Over the course of the 90-minute play, she lists her seven proposed methods for murdering Kylie.
Roll credits, or rather, roll the TL.
Because as Cleo progresses through her list, the IRL and the Twittersphere clash in overwhelming bursts of colour, and it’s to director Milli Bhatia’s credit that their contrasting natures (in terms of tone) and parallels (in terms of how they integrate) are displayed in a way which is so perfectly suffocating and jarring. The two friends spar relentlessly on issues concerning Blackness, queerness and cultural appropriation, in a way which still somehow feels mild in comparison to the flurry of reactionary tweets to Cleo’s ‘methods’. In menacing multicolour, they ridicule and they threaten, their voices distorted in the same way that our every word online can be distorted by others. It’s not ‘just a tweet’ for Cleo anymore, and we see that in Bhatia’s direction, and designer Rajha Shakiry’s tree with a ‘network’ of cobwebs.
It’s worth mentioning that the playtext is worth purchasing if you’re able to get your hands on it. Not only did it help me immensely when lines were lost to the actors having their backs to our side of the stage, but its formatting and notes translate perfectly into the physical performance. It also gives you more time to process what DPMO, BMT and other initialisms mean in relation to the script, but if you can’t wrap your head around most Internet codes, then this may not be one for you.
In the playtext’s introduction, Lee-Jones uses the ‘Me Explaining to My Mom’ meme to illustrate that Kara is the one being lectured to – for most of the story, I should add, as there are moments when we see such a dynamic (Kara as listener and Cleo as speaker) fluctuate. A simple case of who, if anyone, is sitting down in that moment tends to indicate who’s in charge, and the moments when Kara is no longer perched on the floor absorbing Cleo’s complaints is when things get interesting – that, and moments of prominent and piercing silence. The word ‘jarring’ is used a lot in the play itself, but its experimentation with silence truly disrupts the otherwise fast-paced, reactionary rhythm of social media and its real-life consequences. For the avoidance of spoilers, one staring contest is hilarious for its choice of a certain prop.
Such is the intensity of the production – with flashing lights and pulsing sound – that time is needed afterwards to digest the many themes explored in an incredibly small timeframe. One could well argue it’s meta that, much like the overpowering nature of social media itself, audience members will need time to process what they’ve just witnessed. This is not to say that particular themes aren’t more prominent, however, namely Cleo’s musings on the ability to be genuinely angry as a Black woman, without falling into the harmful stereotype and trope around this particular emotion in Black people. When the trauma and harm experienced by Black people is being tone policed, what can they do? What can you do?
In Cleo’s case, it’s starting a Twitter thread to call out a celebrity because she is exhausted – and Henlon makes a devastating professional debut as a confident, intelligent and knowledgeable Black woman falling apart when the attention and pain becomes too much. Make no mistake, though: while Henlon’s Cleo is the central character as the one who’s plotting Jenner’s demise, this play is a two-hander, with Kara not only there to propel the narrative, but also, to challenge. Their fluctuating friendship is just one part of what makes the play so tense, startling and, in some respects, unpredictable.
TL;DR: seven methods of killing kylie jenner is theatre to be digested long after one’s left the auditorium, because there’s little time to do so in the moment. It’s meta, cinematic and overpowering – and it knows it is.
seven methods of killing kylie jenner is now playing at the Royal Court Theatre until 27 July.
Production Images: Myah Jeffers.
Disclaimer: I was invited to watch ‘seven methods of killing kylie jenner’ for free in exchange for a review of the performance as a member of the press. I did not receive payment for this review and all opinions stated are honest and my own.