Jumpy is a witty feminist play starring comedy greats Tamsin Greig and Doon Mackichan. Major issues simmer beneath the feast of sharp one liners…
How do we hold onto our ideals, when the pursuit of them has caused disappointment at every turn? April de Angelis’s moving comedy Jumpy should be celebrated for bringing the middle-aged woman centre stage, but struggling to balance its politics and its comedy it’s left to a couple of star turns by Tamsin Grieg and Doon Mackichan to really keep you invested.
Hilary (Greig) is determined to be content. She has a happy marriage, a healthy fifteen year old daughter, she’s holding onto her job (just) and at 50 she knows that she is far too confident in herself as a person to worry about how she’s viewed as a woman. But, she has to admit, it’s something of an irritation then that her stiletto-clacking daughter seems disinterested in the feminist ideals she rallied for as a teenager, that her youth-obsessed best friend Frances (Mackichan) is taking burlesque classes in the name of empowerment and that her husband has long since become tired of the ideas she stands so strongly for. When you’ve spent so many years sure you’re doing everything right, what are you supposed to do when doubt starts to creep in at the corners?
Just so we’re all clear, Jumpy is funny. Obviously aware of the potential weightiness of its subject matter, Angelis’s script sizzles and sparks with wonderful one liners, moments of pure farce and deliciously recognisable familial scenarios, never sinking under the topics it explores. What happened to the joyful feminism of the 70s? How do you keep your children young in an age determined to see them grow up as quickly as possible? What exactly is modern empowerment for women and in a world obsessed with youth, how can anyone over 30 avoid paranoia about the apparent horrors of ageing? Greig’s careful, perfectly judged performance accounts for a lot of the flawless switches between comedy and heartbreak; expertly causing waves of laughter and stunned silence in her audience sometimes within the space of a single line. Her Hilary is a bundle of nervous energy; a woman naturally bent towards relentless optimism, soured by experience contrary to expectation. Her desperation to reach out to her caustically dispassionate daughter is both endlessly frustrating and cruelly funny, with best friend Frances never hesitating to point out the distance caused by Hilary’s determination to stick to “pious” ideals.
Perhaps suitably, the men seem happy to play second fiddle to the eminently watchable female leads; their roles are sketched rather than drawn, filling up the background noise of a family falling apart. The occasional sounding board, the physical temptation, the bit of eye-candy the message is clear: concentrate on the women, alright? It’s certainly a breath of fresh air, though does perhaps slightly undermine the desire to keep things totally believable.
In fact, the central problem of Jumpy is just that the conflict between wanting to present a life we all know and recognise, versus the desire to stylise for effect. Often Jumpy sacrifices getting to the heart of its issues and sometimes even characters for the sake of a cheap joke, and though it could be suggested there is no more noble a quest than that of a belly laugh, it seems a shame to toss aside the heart of the piece in the pursuit. The topics touched on are so rich that any one of them the mother daughter relationship, the strangeness of youth viewed from adulthood and vice versa, the place of the middle-aged woman in a world that does not value her could make up the heart of this piece singlehandedly. Angelis’s play dares to scrape the surface of all of these issues, but in going no deeper for fear of boring us? – its pleasures are limited, topped up by some absolutely first class clowning by comic genius Doon Mackichan.
There’s no denying that we need more plays like Jumpy, more plays that remind us of the modern woman’s battle against the ubiquitous charms of youth. But possibly we need more plays that are convinced of that fact too, and don’t feel the need to sacrifice the grit of the hurt for an apologetic bit of relief.