By April De Angelis
Royal Court at the Duke of York Theatre
Cast: Tamsin Greig, Bel Powey, Richard Lintern, Ewan Stewart,Doon, Mackichan, Amanda Root.
Director: Nina Raine
A last! A funny, perceptive play with a strong female cast that explores life from a female perspective. In this case it’s Hilary, hitting fifty and menopausal. And that’s not all. She has a hormonal teenage daughter who’s making her life hell. No surprise that it takes all of thirty seconds for Hilary to travel from front door to white wine on her return from work. Tamsin Greig’s portrayal of Hilary is one with whom half the audience instantly identify. She is a woman who has lost control over her child and is mourning the loss of her former self. Standing in her coat, laden with heavy bags, tired after a day at work, we sense a woman skirting a breakdown.
Jumpy is an insightful social comedy which balances laugh-aloud humour with the cringing recognition of those parental faux pas committed in front of embarrassed teenage offspring. Doon Mackichan’s jaw-dropping burlesque routine is one of the funniest things on the West End stage at the moment. In contrast, Hilary’s daughter Tilly, claims her life is ruined by her mother visiting her boyfriend’s parents. Not because she discussed her sex life, but because she went in ‘those jeans’.
Driven by the need to protect her daughter from the effects of contemporary liberal parenting, Hilary reflects on how far she has travelled from her own rebellious youth and feminist ideals. When she laments ‘Feminists. Where have we all gone?’ her best friend Frances retorts ‘We died out, like bus conductors. God we were pious’.
The play examines the issues of sexuality and age, both inside and outside of marriage. The shallow, transient sexual relationships of the teenagers are a sharp contrast to the sexless relationships of the older characters. Forced to confront the loss of her own sexuality by the behaviour of her daughter, Hilary mourns the stagnation of her life as she hits the menopause. Bel Powley’s portrayal of Tilly as the self-obsessed teenager grates perfectly against Greig’s conciliatory Hilary. This is a play which explores the earnestness of parenthood and captures the inability of parents to understand youth.
Refreshingly all the men are cast in supporting roles, never pulling the spotlight from the women. Roland considers an affair with Hilary but is defeated by the prospect of Tilly. Ewan Stewart gives a stilted performance as Hilary’s long-suffering husband, Mark. Hindered by his mono-syllabic lines, he never has opportunity to grow into his character, being relegated to lighting the barbeque or warming the bed. The younger Josh and Cam supply ample eye-candy.
Greig commands the stage with her growing melancholy; Mackichan sparkles as her single, sex-starved friend. Even Bea, Roland’s domineering wife, captivates the audience with her strident defence of her impregnating son. De Angelis has penned a witty play for the mature actress. Considering that in general, British theatre is male dominated, it’s refreshing to see something in the West End which takes a small step in redressing the gender imbalance.