No, the show’s provocative title is not clickbait. When Cleo (Leanne Henlon), a dark-skinned Black woman, learns that Kylie Jenner has been announced as a ‘self-made billionaire’, she is outraged. To express this anger, Cleo describes in darkly comic detail via an anonymous Twitter account the various ways in which she’d like to kill the youngest member of the ‘Keeping Up With the Kardashians’ clan.
What’s Kylie’s crime? Simply put, it’s the injustice that someone who is born into wealth and has been able to amass even greater wealth by appropriating Black culture is labelled as a ‘self-made billionaire’. When Kylie uses lip fillers to achieve fuller lips, it’s fashionable and beautiful. But when Mac showcases a Black model with lips of the same size, it’s seen as ugly. Cleo’s best friend Kara (Tia Bannon), who is a queer light-skinned Black woman, attempts to dissuade Cleo from continuing her Twitter tirade. This sparks a heightened and expansive discussion between the two touching on race, colourism, Black feminism, activism, homophobia, cultural identity and appropriation.
After months of uncertainty regarding when theatres in the UK can make a comeback, it’s refreshing to see that the Royal Court Theatre has returned with such a fiercely original play rather than a safe revival of a dusty commercial show. It’s thrilling to see how the production, directed by Milli Bhatia, has translated the social media platform onto the stage. The actors gleefully read out tweets from the Twitter storm using exaggerated physical movements and their voices are distorted to characterise the tweets, emojis and gifs. The abbreviation-laden language of Twitter also spills out into much of the dialogue between Cleo and Kara.
Although the show is filled with lots of dark humour and many moments of comic relief, at its heart writer Jasmine Lee Jones’ seeks to express the pain which many Black women experience when confronted with the reality of today’s beauty standards. As British-Rapper Dave puts it in his song “Black”:
Black is so confusin’, ‘cause the culture? They’re in love with it
They take our features when they want and have their fun with it
Never seem to help with all the things we know would come with it
Loud in our laughter, silent in our sufferin’
Cleo’s apparent murderous streak is clearly an attempt to mask the hurt that she feels to know that her boyfriend cheated on her with a white girl and that her light-skinned Black friend seems to gain all the favourable male-attention. Ultimately Cleo feels wronged by a society which makes her feel ashamed for certain features on her body which are then celebrated when seen on white women. It’s true that society’s perception of beauty is deeply flawed, it favours those who are able-bodied, discriminates against people based on size and these issues have only been exacerbated with thanks to social media. But when I think about the dark-skinned Black women who I admire such as Naomi Campbell, Lupita Nyong’o, Kelly Rowland, Issa Rae, Michaela Coel, Viola Davis and Amber Riley and then I think about Kylie Jenner, I’m reminded that beauty transcends the physical. For all the money that Kylie Jenner has generated, there are indeed certain kinds of wealth her money sadly can’t buy her. So although I don’t completely agree with each of the messages captured in the show, I respect Jasmine Lee-Jones’ bold use of theatre to initiate this debate.
seven methods of killing kylie jenner is running at the Royal Court Theatre until 27 July 2021 at the time of writing.
Photo Credit: Helen Murray