Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh: Thurs 27 Oct – Sat 12 Nov 2016
Reviewer: Hugh Simpson
There is a generosity and sincerity to Jumpy at Edinburgh’s Lyceum Theatre, allied to some impressive acting, even if the end result is not as overwhelming as it might be.
The central character in April De Angelis’s play is Hilary, a woman approaching 50 with worries about employment, her marriage, her daughter and the collapse of the feminist ideal. For such a character to be the centre of the play, rather than an adjunct to someone else’s story, is interesting in itself. However, that does not necessarily lead to startling originality.
The structure of the piece – not to mention some material that extends little beyond jokes about feminists being hairy or Greenham Common protestors looking like men – is resolutely sit-comish. This even extends to familiar set-piece scenes such as where the Unsuitable Suitor comes round, or the Amusing Friend pops in to do Something Amusing that has no relevance to the plot.
This is not necessarily a bad thing, as the stream of such programmes led by women in the 80s and 90s has dried up, and nowadays the lead character would probably be a man in drag. However, the sentimentality of the closing scenes smacks of the worst excesses of ‘hugging and learning’ from US television comedy.
So much about the production is clever and genuine, for example Cora Bissett’s pin-sharp direction or Jean Chan’s imposing set comprising rickety piles of household appliances. Unfortunately, much of it smacks of trying too hard. That set is too neat a reflection of inner psychological pressures, while the peculiar dance interlude at the end of the first half, and the constant use of evocative music at scene changes, come across as attempts to add meaning and depth that is not otherwise there.
Such over-compensation extends to many of the performances. Richard Conlon (Roland, the unsuitable suitor) and Gail Watson (Frances, the amusing friend) are both very funny – with Watson’s dancing particularly good – but are encouraged to go a little far in their pursuit of laughs to be plausible. Lucianne McEvoy’s Bea edges towards the one-note and shrill; in each case, efforts to add complexity merely distract, when a frothier approach might be more apt.
More effective is the more straightforward comedy of the younger characters – Keiran Gallagher’s monosyllabic, grunting Josh, Cameron Crighton’s more complex, troubled Cam and Dani Heron’s Lyndsey, whose relationship with reality seems tangential at best.
There is a diffuseness to the plot, with the relocation of the story from London to Scotland not always working, and more characters than strictly necessary. The real heart of the story lies with Hilary and those closest to her, and this is where the production is strongest.
catches the eye
Stephen McCole’s understated performance as husband Mark is a sympathetic one, but it is the relationship between Hilary (Pauline Knowles) and her daughter Tilly (Molly Vevers) that most catches the eye and the heart, and rings truest.
Molly Ververs. Photo Mihaela Bodlovic
Vevers is largely convincing as a stroppy teenager, and the depth missing elsewhere can be found in a multifaceted characterisation. Knowles similarly achieves a rounded portrayal, with both of them particularly strong at combining vulnerability and vigour, and suggesting the difficulty of expressing hidden frustrations and secret sorrows.
Knowles holds the whole show together to such an extent that it is much more coherent than it might be, and makes the difficult tragicomic atmosphere seem natural. The generosity and heartfelt nature of the production means that it is never less than a satisfying experience, even if it seems to be striving for a profundity it never achieves.
Running time 2 hours 30 minutes including one interval
Royal Lyceum Theatre, Grindlay Street EH3 9AX
Thursday 27 October – Saturday 12 November 2016
Evenings: Tuesdays to Saturdays at 7.30 pm; Matinees: Wednesdays and Saturdays at 2.00 pm
Tickets from https://lyceum.org.uk/whats-on/production/jumpy
The Lyceum has curated a spotify list of music featured in the production here: http://bit.ly/JumpyLyceum
Click on image to buy paperback or kindle editions of the script from Amazon.