tue 16/04/2024

Jumpy, Duke of York's Theatre | reviews, news & interviews

Jumpy, Duke of York's Theatre

Jumpy, Duke of York's Theatre

April de Angelis's comedy about motherhood is painfully funny, but it lacks bite

Tamsin Greig (Hilary) and Bel Powley (Tilly) do battle in 'Jumpy'Robert Workman

Affairs, arguments, accidents. Feminism, marital failure and a fear of ageing. Jumpy has plenty of conflicts and issues, dunked in a wonderful bittersweet humour. But while April de Angelis faces uncomfortable truths, she fails to deal with them with equal courage. This play gnashes its teeth – at the gap in communication between generations and at the eternal pursuit of youth – but it lacks bite.

Jumpy, which was first on at the Royal Court last autumn, is worth seeing for Tamsin Greig alone. Greig plays Hilary, a middle-class, middle-aged mother having an identity crisis. As Tilly, her teenage daughter, cries out for independence, she worries she is becoming redundant. A feminist, she tries to be Tilly's mentor, but for Tilly, her mother's pre-Pill, pre-equality era is the Dark Ages. When she tries to be Tilly's friend, Tilly turns to texts on her mobile. To her daughter, Hilary is embarrassing, controlling and “mentalpausal”.

There is sensational spiky chemistry between Greig's Hilary and Bel Powley as Tilly

But motherhood and feminism are only two of the many themes here. Hilary envies Tilly's youth and sexual appeal. Frances, Hilary's brassy friend, wants surgery to cover up any signs of ageing, while Mark, Hilary's husband, is losing interest in her. The younger generation, de Angelis argues, is in a better position: they have a future, boys at their feet and no responsibilities.

Greig – 46 in real life – has Hilary in a state of fizzing anxiety: scared even to ask Tilly about her day at school. Whether she's showing her daughter photographs of the women's peace camp at Greenham Common or having an affair with her daughter's boyfriend, Hilary's vulnerabilities come across against a shadow of a younger, stronger self.

There is sensational spiky chemistry between Greig and Bel Powley, as Tilly, as the two pull in opposite directions. Powley plays Tilly with a convincing mix of invincibility and fear. In quick-fire exchanges, de Angelis shows how mother-daughter arguments can accelerate into verbal car crashes, with one party imploding, the other swerving off course. Hilary and Tilly row over sex, parties and exams, with Powley mastering a wide-eyed expression that encapsulates complete bewilderment at her mother.

Doon Mackichan (pictured with Greig, right) delivers a star turn as Frances with a burlesque routine, under the witty direction of Nina Raine. In a black leather leotard with pink nipple tassels, she prances around the stage
with a whip – to demonstrate the “empowerment of women”. James Musgrave as Tilly's boyfriend, Josh, looks startled when Frances shoves a red glove in his mouth. Only Ewan Stewart, as Hilary's passive husband Mark, fails to spark during the play: possibly a flaw of the script.

In exploring the mother-daughter relationship, de Angelis asks a timely question: if today's teenage girls are willing – enthusiastic, even – to sexualise themselves for men and don't care about getting pregnant at 16, have second-wave feminists failed? De Angelis seems to be saying that at least feminists gave the next generation a choice.

The final scene suggests this is enough, but do such ideals fade that fast? Feminism vies for attention with so many other fiery issues that the focus of the play is not always clear. Jumpy also questions the permanence of marriage and glances at the realities of affairs. It asks: what should you do if your child is pregnant? What do you do if they have a gun? At such a juncture, the plot could easily take a darker turn; the atmosphere could intensify. It doesn't. At the end, Hilary describes motherhood as a journey towards mutual understanding. It's touching, in a way. But is that all she is left with? Tilly, at this point, is 18. Mother and daughter have some way to go.

Motherhood and feminism are only two of the many themes here. Hilary envies Tilly's youth and sexual appeal


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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