Howard Coase watches Jumpy at the Royal Court
The F-Word is not fashionable. The stubbly, steely, ball busting, cock crushing killjoy caricature has stuck so hard to the Women’s Movement that when anyone sober now says, “I’m a feminist!” they might as well have announced, “I’m no longer going to shave my armpits and the next man to offer me a seat on a train will get a look he could choke on.” With that in mind, I was absolutely expecting April De Angelis’ Jumpy, as a ‘feminist play’, to include bra-burning angst of such cringe coaxing magnitude that I’d leave the Duke of York’s filled with misogyny, overpriced alcohol and a kitsch feminist message lodged in my throat. I would be John McCririck. I was genuinely thrilled, then, to learn that this play is extraordinarily great.
At its very warm heart it is a candid depiction of a woman’s midlife crisis, a topic so unplumbed that to see it on stage left you boggled by the fact that nobody had bothered to write about it before. Hilary (Tamsin Greig)is having a crisis and “it’s called being fifty”. Her relationships with her daughter (Bel Powley), her husband (Ewan Stewart) and alcohol are all going a bit Jeremy Kyle and she’s drowning in disappointment with life. The premise is deceptively simple and at times the script narrowly avoids veering into a well staged sit-com but the central performance by Greig is delivered with such brilliance that even moments that could seem small when placed within the impressive set are instantly hilarious and poignant. Bel Powley perfectly captures the feisty spirit of an entire generation: flouncing and frowning throughout but saving her part from caricature with nuanced moments of vulnerability. The male leads, Roland (Richard Lintern) and Mark (Ewan Stewart), are often dwarfed by the women surrounding them but they do well to keep up with the noisy, complicated and utterly believable female parts. The funniest moments belong to Frances (Doon Mackichan), who, during the evening’s most jarring departure from plausibility, performs a burlesque routine with such chutzpah that it got its very own applause.
The play itself is a delicate balance: part subtle family drama and part straightforward comic set pieces. There’s a tendency to cut away from powerful moments with snappy scene-changes but the outcome is a perfect pace that prevents itself from dwelling self-indulgently on thematic ‘issues’. The cornerstone of this success is the lightness with which De Angelis’ handles Hilary’s feminist views; by the time she screams, “We don’t have to be fucked by a man to be human” you’re so engrossed in the character that the line is moving but not mawkish, and funny but not farcical. Caryl Churchill would be very disappointed. There’s no broadcasting of ‘The Message’: the views of each character never seem forced or in-your-face. It’s feminism minus the preacher; feminism that is funny and entertaining. De Angelis explores all of what it can mean for a woman to grow old, and what it can mean for a girl to grow up forever carrying OK!, and makes their struggles important without being self-important.
Despite the deft way with which such issues are handled, the play is unapologetically part of a renewed attempt to reclaim the feminist brand from the stereotype that has eroded its strength over the last decade. By the end of the pre-show discussion, Has the Legacy of Feminism been betrayed?, there was a definite sense that whilst the legislative battle for equality has now been won, the attitudinal struggle is far from over. In the play’s programme we are reminded that whilst the Equal Pay Act may have been passed in 1975, women only comprise 15% of corporate board members today. It’s telling that such factual splurge is left out of the script itself because the playwright seems determined to make her play about a woman who is a feminist but not about feminism. Is it actually a ‘feminist play’? De Angelis states that it was not written as one and you feel whilst watching it that everything discussed has grown organically out of the characters. Most importantly, it works brilliantly as entertainment by not going out of its way to proselytize anyone who doesn’t wish they were at Greenham Common.
Jumpy plays as part of the Royal Court at the Duke of York’s season until November 3rd, with tickets from £15
PHOTO/Thomas Atilla Lewis