I’ve never watched Keeping up with the Kardashians and only have a vague sense of who Kylie Jenner is – I certainly couldn’t pick her out of a line-up.
But I do remember the news headlines when Jenner broke into the Forbes Billionaires list in 2017 and was heralded as, at the age of just 21, the world’s youngest self-made billionaire on the back of her cosmetics business, social media ubiquity and reality TV fame.
A mocking tweet over the veracity of the ‘self-made’ adjective launches the Jasmine Lee Jones’ play Seven Methods of Killing Kylie Jenner, now transferred to the Royal Court’s Downstairs main house after first being seen in the Upstairs studio two years ago:
“YT woman born into rich American family, somehow against all odds, manages to get more rich…” [slow hand clap]
The tweet is posted by @INCOGNEGRO who in real-life (IRL) is 21-year-old black Briton Cleo (Leanne Henlon, making an astonishing professional debut). Online, Cleo proceeds to detail the seven said methods of the title in fierce poetic form. Each method of killing – by poison, by shooting and so on – takes direct aim at Jenner’s privilege and appropriation of black female beauty in her success.
Offline, Cleo vents and spars with her bestie Kara (Tia Bannon, reprising her role from the play’s award-winning premiere), who is becoming increasingly concerned about her friend’s mental health and, as a backlash builds online, her safety.
In between, there are stunning ‘Twitterludes’ in which the two actors perform a dizzying array of those backlash tweets – bringing to witty and sometimes frightening life not just the words and sentiments but the gifs, hashtags, acronyms, and emojis of racist vitriol. Big kudos to Delphine Gaborit’s movement here.
As Cleo continues her campaign, the tangled throbbing mess overhanging Rajha Shakiry’s dark set lowers ominously over the heads of the characters – the net is closing in.
The play, and Milli Bhatia’s astute production, powerfully captures how our online identities can segue into and overwhelm our offline lives, how the weight of history and trauma is carried into the present, and how this takes a heavy toll on brilliant young black women, like the ones in the play and, presumably, the author herself. (Since the play premiered, Jones has come off all social media herself.)
And why those of us who, like Kylie Jenner, have been born white or wealthy or more privileged, must do much more to listen, to understand, to redress. To lighten the load others have been shouldering for generations.
After a heady 90 minutes, I was struck by Cleo’s closing ‘post-mortem’:
“I’m just so exhausted. And I’m tired of explaining why. Giving a reason for every bit of my rage. My pain. And it’s like all I can feel is weigh. Dragging me down. All the time. Every fucking day. When I wake up. When I go to sleep. And I… I just don’t wanna feel heavy no more.”
After seeing Seven Methods of Killing Kylie Jenner, I also recommend you get Methuen Drama’s playtext. It’s highly visual with all the tweets and memes cited in the performance, but also contains Jasmine Lee Jones’ remarkable character descriptions (Cleo is ‘smart and dope as fuck but also hella problematic’) and stage directions, plus a powerful premeditation that brings this 2021 production fully up to the post-George Floyd, post-Covid minute.
As for the real Kylie Jenner, I am still not interested in ‘keeping up’ with her, though a quick Google when writing this tells me that in May 2020 Forbes revised their calculation of her wealth, accusing the star of forging tax documents and fabricating revenue figures for her Kylie Cosmetics, and her company website is now a holding page with an email sign-up for alerts. She does still have 243 million Instagram followers though.
What does Hollywood think?
In my search for a show trailer, I instead stumbled upon this oh-so-Hollywood report on Jasmine Lee Jones‘ play and fawning over the young reality TV star. ‘Confused by the title… and maybe a little scared’.
Fast-forward to 1 minute, 40 seconds.