Review: Jumpy, Royal Court Theatre

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.

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About manipillai

Oh, just a few of my thoughts on theatre.
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4 Responses to Review: Jumpy, Royal Court Theatre

  1. Simon says:

    I’ve only been to the Royal Court Theatre at Sloane Square twice. The first time was in August 2011 for The Village Bike. It was superb. Very funny, very well-acted, a super cast, a dynamic script, edgy, irreverent and humorously moving. It was modern theatre at its best. The second time was for Jumpy. What a contrast! Jumpy was middle-class English TV sitcom comedy at its worst. Labored, predictable and completely lacking any of the charm and freshness that was a feature of The Village Bike. Please Royal Court try to be consistent! I know that it must be very hard to fulfill your mission of introducing new playwrights who in some way bring a new dimension to theatre, but surely it is not that hard to reject something that would easily be accepted by a totally undemanding TV sitcom selection committee for whom the target audience definition is “easily pleased from Welwyn Garden City, out on the town once a month, otherwise happy with TV pap”. I really hope that The Village Bike was the rule and Jumpy the exception. If it is the other way around, I am very pessimistic about the future of British theatre.

    • I agree with your point about Jumpy being right for an easy tv sitcom. I’m also disappointed that the Royal Court is staging this but let’s hope that this isn’t emblematic of contemporary British theatre.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I saw Jumpy last night and I thought it excellent and – judging by the reaction at the end – so did the rest of the audience.

    You seem to dislike the fact that a joke was made about ‘turning into a Tory’ and that David Cameron was disparaged using old Anglo Saxon. These were presented as jokes, and not as a browbeating of the audience, as you suggest.

    I am curious as to what sitcoms you watch when you suggest that this material would be suited to that genre of TV comedy?

    The performances were spot on and I found the journey that Hilary goes on completely believable.

    This is the first time I have stopped off at this blog, and will definitely be the last.

  3. JC says:

    Hi – you didn’t like the play – that’s fine. But because it didn’t push a Big Society agenda and someone calls DC a bad word? (Have you spoken to any teachers recently btw?)

    The play holds a mirror up to a certain sector of life – that’s what a lot of good drama does, right? Why expect it to be ‘balanced’ or push your favourite ideas? That’s a pretty narrow definition of a fun/interesting night out.

    I go to 20-30 shows a year – like it or not, the average age of the audience is 50+. This play is going to resonate with them like few others this year. For them, it is also screamingly funny. Betrayal it isn’t – (neither is it perfect) but as a touching exploration of the current version of the Generation Gap and it’s observation of Mother/Daughter issues, Jumpy is spot on.

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