The Sentinel speaks with theatre director Shari Sebbens about her play Seven Methods of Killing Kylie Jenner, and why this funny yet scathing examination of modern celebrity culture is a must-see. By Rita Bratovich.
Despite the title, this new work by British playwright and poet Jasmine Lee-Jones is not a step-by-step guide to murdering a billionaire socialite.
“It’s a deliberately provocative and dark humorous take on cultural appropriation in today’s capitalist society,” explains director Shari Sebbens.
The play has only two characters: best friends, Cleo (Moreblessing Maturure) and Kara (Vivienne Awosoga), both young and media savvy. The driving narrative is their increasingly intense and revelatory discussion prompted by a Forbes magazine tweet naming Kylie Jenner the world’s youngest self-made billionaire at age 21. (The actual tweet was posted in 2019.)
Cleo tweets a dissenting reply questioning the veracity of Jenner’s “self-made” claim in the context of her pre-existing celebrity and family wealth. It causes a Twitter storm and brings Kara rushing over to debate the issue with her bestie.
Production designer Keerthi Subramanyam has created a pared back, abstract set that conceptualises the social media milieu. The actors use their own bodies and gestures to depict memes, emojis and GIFs, with projections and other elements being used as support.
To further the immersion effect, sound designer Kim Bowers AKA Busty Beatz has composed a soundscape using literal sound references as well as mood music.
“We’ve got little things like Twitter sounds and then we have massive sort of drum beats and … just really kind of cool,” explains Sebbens.
Writer, Lee-Jones, derived the play from a poem she wrote with the same title.
The play takes themes Lee-Jones ponders in the poem and explores them further: issues around appropriation and misuse of black female bodies, racism, homophobia, misogyny, the myths around celebrity, and the ready-to-detonate atmosphere of modern cyber culture.
Because of its authenticity, the play naturally uses tech jargon and the lexicon of Generation Z, but that does’t put it beyond the scope of comprehension for people outside that bubble.
“It’s like going to Shakespeare,” reasons Sebbens, “like I don’t speak Jacobian language, but when the acting and the story is clear, I can very much keep up with what’s happening.”
The cast and crew for this production is made up entirely of women, with 95 per cent being women of colour – a deliberate choice by the director and producer.
“It really just came about from wanting to know that the environment would be safe at all times,” explains Sebbens. “It’s a play where, black women in particular are speaking about their lived experience.”
That lived experience covers some harrowing and controversial territory and, in the hands of a lesser writer, the play could have been pontifical, but Lee-Jones leverages gravity with humour.
“Jasmine’s really great at sandwiching in ideologies and beliefs in the contexts of a lived experience that doesn’t at all cater to exposition or soap box preaching. You learn so much about what Jasmine wants this play to say through really vibrant, thrilling language and dialogue,” says Sebbens.
Ultimately, what the play is about and what really makes it accessible is its examination of friendship. The relationship between Cleo and Kara evolves, morphs, diffuses as the two women share more and more of themselves. Sebbens believes it’s something most people – especially women – can relate to.
“Essentially what you’re watching is two best friends trying to figure each other out.”
Seven Methods of Killing Kylie Jenner plays the Eternity Playhouse Theatre, 39 Burton Street, Darlinghurst, from Wednesday, 21 April to Sunday, 2 May. Tickets ($42) and more info from www.darlinghursttheatre.com/sevenmethods.
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