Kylie Jenner is dead. Well, not literally.
In the opening scene of 23-year-old British playwright Jasmine Lee-Jones’ rapid-fire debut, two grown women drag a body along the ground and heave it into the bright ether of a bedroom floor. It’s the start of a sharp-shooting interrogation of modern anti-Blackness and cultural appropriation, told through the lens of the socialite’s formidable presence over popular and online culture.
Directed by Shari Sebbens, the award-winning play is in Australia for the first time, after debuting in London in 2019. The narrative begins on Twitter, after Forbes magazine claims Kylie Jenner as the “first self-made billionaire”. Cleo (Moreblessing Maturure), who is writing her university dissertation on structural racism, fires back with an anonymous thread under the hashtag #kyliejennerfidead, detailing – one by one – the hypothetical methods of killing Jenner (poison, drowning, disgrace etc).
The scrolling tweets appear on screens above the stage, slickly presented by audiovisual designer Wendy Yu – which are then hilariously acted out in smartly timed sync by Maturure and Vivienne Awosoga, who plays Cleo’s best friend, Kara.
Mostly, however, the thread becomes an outlet for Cleo to unleash her frustrations at society’s hypocrisies – in particular, the commodification of Black bodies for a rich, white woman’s celebration and benefit.
The depiction of how millennials and Gen Z use social media is one of the play’s triumphs: particularly the dichotomy between amusing flairs such as emoji and GIFs versus the toxicity of instant, sometimes cruel replies. The Darlinghurst Theatre Company and Green Door Theatre Company production is rough around the edges, zappy in its dialogue, and youthfully provocative, with heavy-hitting subject matter that punches through.
Seven Methods is very much a two-hander, and it’s a deliciously high-octane one. Offline, Cleo and Kara are holed up in Cleo’s bedroom, where they butt heads on how to best navigate the battlefield of online activism: Cleo is hot-headed and passionate, a bit of a loose cannon, while Kara takes more of a backseat approach.
This triggers heated debates between them about light-skinned privilege and the ownership of Blackness, as well as queer identity – while opening up discussions around full body trauma and the degradation of Black bodies through history.
What are the consequences of a societal complicity that continues to fetishise Black culture? Why, for example, are Kylie Jenner’s “full lips” considered fashionable, but on a Black woman they’ve been a constant feature of shame and stigma? Lee-Jones asks these questions at breakneck speed, as Sebbens draws nuance from Cleo and Kara’s explosive clashes – legitimising each of their experiences of colourism, while painting a fuller picture of their collective subjection to white supremacy.
The offline and online situations cleverly weave in and out, with each piecemeal section of the play relishing in a new, darker method of executing the titular act – and sets off another personal conflict between the friends. It’s also a breathtakingly accurate reflection of the familiar cycle that follows any moment of virality: the praise, the backlash, the digging up of past tweets – and then the collective exhaustion of engaging with it all.
Production designer Keerthi Subramanyam’s raised platform set offers enough room for the versatility of the action, with lighting and colour design from Kate Baldwin that effectively differentiates between Twittersphere and real life. But as the drama of the social media fiasco escalates, it doesn’t feed as cleanly into Cleo and Kara’s arguments – and the burning intensity of their conversation doesn’t always sustain itself through the play’s one-act nature. The show stumbles and loses some steam, but through its snappy writing and pitch-perfect delivery it often quickly finds its feet again.
Maturure and Awosoga are ~insert multiple fire emojis~: their brazen performances bounce off each other, and they completely command the stage. Even when you’re trying not to let lost between their slightly unrealistic Gen Z speak (acronyms like IDK to S2g to FFS), their mannerisms alone – alongside Sebbens’ eagle-eyed staging – are substantial enough to grasp the dynamics of their unswerving friendship.
The end of Seven Methods confronts its audience’s passive consumption of what they’re watching – like the bright-coloured postcards placed behind each seat, which pose questions like: “Who is responsible for the liberation of black women?” and “How do you perpetuate anti-blackness?” These are queries which apply just as urgently to Australia, where Black and Indigenous lives are still not considered as valuable as white ones.
Though Cleo may have never been serious about acting on the violence that predicates the show’s title, there’s something equally fresh and sinister underneath the cracks of our screens – a reminder that the world contained there doesn’t exist in a vacuum.