This new play, written by April De Angelis, characterises mid life crisis but without any intensity. An easy to follow contemporary domestic drama, it will, undoubtedly, be a popular hit. My own enthusiasm for the play diminished as time went on and, by the time it finished, I was mildly irritated with it.
It tells the story of Hilary (Tamsin Grieg), a 50 year old woman who is grieving the passing of her youth. She is now saddled with an utterly unpleasant teenage daughter, Tilly (Bel Powley) and an overweight and almost lifeless husband, Mark (Ewan Stewart). Plenty of mother daughter struggles and quarrels follow as Tilly tests her mother’s (and the audience’s) patience. In this respect, there is a similarity to Mike Leigh’s Grief but the similarity ends there. Whereas the mother in Grief is controlling of her daughter (not even allowing her to buy a duffel coat), Hilary in Jumpy is the opposite. She lets her daughter go to clubs, wearing the shortest of dresses and the vertiginous of heels. She also sanctions her daughter having sex with her boyfriend. While I didn’t like the way Grief ended, I could, to some extent, understand the daughter’s sullen cruelty her mother. In Jumpy, Tilly’s character is a caricature, stopping us from wanting to find out nor care why Tilly is the way she is.
In between the mother daughter power struggles, Hilary hangs out with her 50 year old single and sassy friend Frances (Doon Mackichan) and reminisces about their younger days. One of the few highlights in this play is Frances’ burlesque performance which is unforgettable. Frances has got some of the best comic lines in this play and her character will remind people of Sex and the City’s Samantha. Yes, single middle aged women are all defined by Sex and the City – another original idea. I think we’d soon struggle to answer the question ‘Who came first? Real women or Sex and the City women?’.
Amidst the glib wisecracks and the excellent music, there are a few moving themes in this play, which I wish were explored with more substance. Tilly’s friend, a 16 year old Lyndsey (Seline Hizli), has a baby but her boyfriend is now dead. In one scene, the adults ask her questions in a manner to elicit a ‘Yes, I wish I didn’t have this baby which has limited my life’ but Lyndsey defies them with an earnest and a genuinely meant ‘I wouldn’t be without him (the baby)’. It’s really a touching moment, only fleetingly explored in this play unfortunately. The adults in this play come from a generation where careers and independence took priority before women settled down to have families and they are now unable to understand young women like Lyndsey.
Hilary, at the end, concludes that she cannot ‘hold on too tight’ to her daughter and this is also true of the two generations. The older generation cannot expect the younger one to adopt the same values and priorities; and nor should they be judged for having, sometimes entirely, different expectations of life.
What ultimately irritated me about this play is its preachy political message. David Cameron is called an offensive name because Hilary loses her literacy coordinator job. ‘I care for literacy,’ she cries out after she has lost her job. In reality, there are plenty of adults volunteering all over London to help children acquire literacy skills. At the end Hilary, who hopes that Tilly will turn out to be ‘all right’, says she’ll be contended if Tilly ‘doesn’t get into drugs or become the victim of random terrorist attack or turn into a Tory’. Theatre can be a powerful platform but only when it’s persuasive and when it makes its point through illustration; just having a character stand there and browbeat the audience with a four letter swear word and cheap political attacks will turn some of the members of the audience off.
Incidentally, for a play that is set in Walthamstow, there are no ethnic minority characters in it. Is this also David Cameron’s fault?
Jumpy is on at the Royal Court Theatre until 19 November 2011. Performance time is 2 hours and 20 mins with an interval. Tickets are at the box office.