Jumpy is another intriguing show the Royal Court has brought to the West End. TV's Tamsin Greig (Green Wing) shines as a woman struggling to reconcile her feminist ideals from the past with the dreary reality of family life catching up with her. In the past, with productions like Hush, Wild East or Catch, April de Angelis and the Royal Court have had a good track record of producing relevant plays about British middle-class people. And with last year's successful run, Jumpy was a likely candidate for the Royal Court's on-going West End transfer collaboration with the Duke of York's.
The show opens on overworked, disillusioned Hilary coming home from work and downing a glass of wine before even having put down her coat and bags. She's a fatigued 50-year old woman and we soon find out that, in the 1980s, she used to be involved in the feminist movement. But it seems that a loveless marriage and a pubescent daughter have drained all notions of empowerment from her.
Strong women involved in the second-wave feminist movement now having become older often feel their sense of entitlement has been betrayed. This should be their time to earn the fruits of their efforts, and the change in society they fought for so hard should be passed on to the younger generation. But instead Hilary's daughter Tilly, failing to identify with her mother's ideals, is a disconnected and petulant girl who is more concerned with boys and fashion. Bel Powley is convincing as the 15-year old brat, but her performance does not really reflect her growing up in the two years or so the play spans.
Tamsin Greig delivers a funny and touching performance of a woman walking the tightrope of either miserably accepting the inevitable dreariness of London middle-class life or wanting to cry out at the injustice of it all. She is too worldly and wise to really believe that an affair with the young university student Cam (Ben Lloyd-Hughes) will relieve her misery, but at the same time she seems to despise the cynicism that has crept into her perception of the world.
Opposite Hilary is her friend Frances, portrayed by the delightfully scene-chewing Doon Mackichan. She tries to embrace her age and, in an awkward attempt to reclaim her own sexuality, has the house in tears of laughter when she does a burlesque dance number under the guise of self-discovery.
Lizzie Clachan's design is an unadorned, whitewashed space that hints cleverly at underlying and suppressed middle-class problems and allows for the character's actions to be observed by the audience, like in an experimental arrangement. The result is a very impersonal room, reflective of the loveless marriage and the broken mother-daughter relationship inhabiting it.
The Duke of York's theatre, however, does not quite feel like the right space for this show. On the evening I saw it, some of the performances were surprisingly unengaged and uninvolved in the action. The very personal moments get lost in the depth of the space, and it is only at the very end when Hilary steps downstage and half-addresses the audience that her desolation really comes crashing down on us.
Jumpy is a very intelligent piece that sometimes wraps what it wants to say into too many layers, and so when it comes back to a more accessible level there is the odd clunky scene or plot development. When the piece is at its best, there is laugh-out loud humour paired with poignant and accurate observations about female desires. Even though it is not a perfectly balanced piece of theatre, in general it is definitely worth seeing for Tamsin Greig's performance alone.
A mother, a wife, and fifty, Hilary once protested at Greenham. Now her protests tend to focus on persuading her teenage daughter to go out fully clothed. A frank and funny family drama. Tamsin Greig returns to the role for which she won universal critical acclaim. Her other recent theatre credits include The Little Dog Laughed, for which she was nominated for an Olivier Award. Nina Raine directs. Both a writer and a director, her last play at the Royal Court, Tribes was nominated for an Olivier Award for Best Play. April De Angelis' work at the Royal Court includes Catch and Wild East. Her credits elsewhere include A Gloriously Mucky Business (Lyric Hammersmith) and Calais (Paines Plough/Oran Mor)
Duke of York'sSt Martin's Lane
London Greater London United Kingdom WC2N 4BG
Bel Powley (Tilly), Tamsin Greig (Hilary). © Robert Workman
Doon Mackichan (Frances), Tamsin Greig (Hilary). © Robert Workman
Tamsin Greig (Hilary), Bel Powley (Tilly). © Robert Workman