Veering between real life and the virtual timeline, Jasmine Lee-Jones’s funny and furious play returns to the Royal Court after a sellout run in 2019. Directed by Milli Bhatia, this experimental extended argument is a vivid exploration of Blackness, queerness and the online world.
A recently dumped Cleo (Leanne Henlon) is on a Twitter tirade, her attention laser-focused on the idea that born-rich media personality Kylie Jenner can be “self-made". Cleo’s trivial tweets spiral into death threats against Jenner, while her best friend Kara (Tia Bannon) tries to talk her down.
Jones’s dialogue is quick, sharp and clever. Her writing about sex is hilarious – the “I’m craving dick” line gets a round of applause – and she is acute in her accusations, as she fastidiously unpicks the ways the world has piled up injustices against Black women. As Cora’s tweets gain momentum, the conversation heats up and the IRL friends’ words become harsher, anger flying faster. Their debates are raw and hurtful, with mistakes of the past dredged up, demanding apology.
Cleo and Kara’s speech is steeped in internet culture, as if their whole beings are swallowed up by the cloud. The recitation of memes is a natural part of their conversation, sometimes easier to fall back on than their own words. When we hear the online reaction to Cleo’s tweets, the pair embody a kaleidoscope of characters, their voices echoing on Rajha Shakiry’s light-streaked, fog-filled stage. Dopo, as Cleo’s methods for murder go viral, the words are taken from the control of their bodies and heard from speakers above. Racism snowballs, rape threats arrive. In moments like this, the ridiculousness of the internet is replaced by a reminder of the vile, terrifying place it can be.
Although the physicalisation of the internet is imaginative, the Twitter-interlude structure feels a little trapped towards the end, as if it’s stopped inventing. The arguments begin to circle and the finale can’t quite hold the weight of history it attempts to. Nevertheless, Henlon and Bannon are gripping throughout. Jones is a brilliant, dynamic writer, and this is a striking debut.