Jumpy

Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House, March 28

Brenna Harding and Jane Turner. Photo: Brett Boardman

Brenna Harding and Jane Turner. Photo: Brett Boardman

Written by British playwright April De Angelis, Jumpy was a hit in the UK, where it opened at the Royal Court in 2011 then transferred to the West End.

It’s certainly refreshing to see a play where the central protagonist is a 50-year old woman – played here by Kath & Kim’s Jane Turner – and where the themes are mainly women’s issues.

Hilary (Turner) is being buffeted by life. Her job in childhood literacy is on the line due to funding cuts, her marriage is stale, her political idealism seems a thing of the past, and her surly, sexually precocious, 15-year old daughter Tilly (Brenna Harding) is an antagonistic nightmare. Hell, even the furniture seems out to get her during the scene changes in Pamela Rabe’s Melbourne Theatre Company production, now being presented in Sydney by Sydney Theatre Company.

Hilary and her best friend Frances (Marina Prior) take regular solace in a glass or three of savvy blanc, while the single, sex-starved Frances also works up a saucy burlesque act, which she describes it as “post-feminist irony” but which feels pretty desperate (and cringe-making).

Marina Prior, Brenna Harding and David Tredinnick.  Photo: Brett Boardman

Marina Prior, Brenna Harding and David Tredinnick. Photo: Brett Boardman

When Tilly begins sleeping with her boyfriend Josh (Laurence Boxhall), Hilary goes to meet Josh’s steely mother Bea (Caroline Brazier) and more amiable actor father Roland (John Lloyd Fillingham) whose take on the situation is very different. Their marriage is also on the rocks.

Jumpy is a lively, well-written comedy though it makes its themes (marriage, parenting, feminism, the sexualisation of young women and the invisibility of their older counterparts) fairly obvious.

Rabe directs an elegant production on Michael Hankin’s pale wooden, low-ceilinged set, which has the furniture glide on and off as if on a conveyor belt. It’s witty and with so many short, snappy scenes it’s a clever solution. As for having Hilary jump to avoid the scenery in the set changes, I can understand the logic, and many in the audience clearly loved the idea, but I found it a bit of a cheap laugh, making Hilary something of a buffoon, which she absolutely isn’t.

Teresa Negroponte’s costumes are spot-on and it’s all well lit by Matt Scott.

Turner gives a lovely, subtle performance, finding the humour, confusion and poignancy in Hilary’s situation. Harding glowers convincingly as Tilly, though the role is pretty one-dimensional, while Prior is very funny as Frances, as is Brazier as the cold, witheringly brusque Bea.

Tariro Mavondo shines as Tilly’s cheery, working class friend Lyndsey, who finds herself pregnant at 16, but where Tilly is a thunderous dark cloud, Lyndsey exudes sunny optimism despite having so much to contend with.

There are also strong performances from Lloyd Fillingham as the genial but awkward Roland, David Tredinnick as Hilary’s rather ineffectual husband who constantly gives in to Tilly in his anxiety to avoid conflict, Boxhall as Tilly’s monosyllabic boyfriend Josh, and Dylan Watson as Cam, another boy Tilly brings home with unexpected results.

Jumpy is somewhat reminiscent of Alan Ayckbourn or David Williamson in style. It resists tying things up too neatly, with a second act that is darker than the first, but several events feel unlikely, not least the late appearance of a gun, while De Angelis cops out a bit with a soft solution to Tilly’s later situation.

Marina Prior and Jane Turner.  Photo: Brett Boardman

Marina Prior and Jane Turner. Photo: Brett Boardman

However, the challenges Hilary and Frances face and the banter between them ring true, and many will relate to the way the two women feel about aging and our changing society.

In the end Jumpy is a lightweight play but it’s enjoyable and well staged. The chance to see Turner and Prior flex their comic muscles on stage is a particular delight.

Jumpy runs at the Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House until May 16. Bookings: 02 9250 1777 or www.sydneytheatre.com.au

A version of this review ran in the Sunday Telegraph on April 5

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From Kath to Margaret Thatcher, Jane Turner loves wigging it

Jane Turner as Margaret Thatcher. Photo: supplied

Jane Turner as Margaret Thatcher. Photo: supplied

Jane Turner loves nothing better than a wig to help her get into character. The frizzy perm was the crowning jewel in her creation of foxy moron Kath Day-Knight in Kath & Kim.

So playing Margaret Thatcher with her famous, immaculate helmet of hair has obvious appeal.

As revealed in the Sunday Telegraph, Turner is one of the actors in the Sydney season of Rupert, David Williamson’s cabaret-infused stage biography of media titan Rupert Murdoch.

The cast is led by James Cromwell (Farmer Hoggett in Babe) as Murdoch and Guy Edmonds as his younger self, with Turner playing Thatcher and Dame Elisabeth Murdoch among other roles.

Rupert premiered at the Melbourne Theatre Company last year. It has since toured to Washington and will go to London’s West End next year. But first it has a four-week season in Sydney.

Though reviews have been mixed, with some critics considering it as little more than an animated Wikipedia entry, audiences have embraced it (as is usually the way with Williamson).

Turner saw the play in Melbourne and found it “thoroughly entertaining”. Asked to take over the roles of Thatcher and Dame Elisabeth, she says she didn’t hesitate.

“I love doing a lot of different roles in a show. I think it’s always great fun, particularly doing it in a fabulous, funny wig.”

Asked if she’ll have several wigs in Rupert, she laughs. “I hope so. I cannot perform without a wig. That’s in my rider!

“There is an amazing difference between a wig that is funny and a wig that isn’t funny. To the naked eye it might look exactly the same wig but when you put them on you just know if they are funny or not,” says Turner.

“I had some wigs (for Kath) along the way that weren’t funny. The original, scrawny, nylon wig that we used for the first series was pure comic gold. By the end (of the series) I was wearing that wig back to front because it was so stretched in the front of it. It was very funny. It’s still in my cupboard like an old, dead rat. I love it.”

Turner has plenty of experience playing real people from her sketch show days in Fast Forward and Full Frontal when she parodied the likes of Lady Di, Ita Buttrose, Sharon Stone and even Woody Allen.

When it comes to Thatcher, she says: “it’s all in the wig again because her hair was pretty distinctive, and also the voice. And she had a bit of a waddly walk, similar to mine. But hopefully I’ll get a chance to bring something more than just a sketch quality.”

Turner was last seen on the Sydney stage in 1999 in Ben Elton’s Popcorn. But she says she loves returning to the theatre when she can. In 2010, she performed in Tommy Murphy’s Holding the Man in London.

Next year, she stars in Jumpy, an English comedy by April De Angelis, for the Sydney and Melbourne Theatre Companies, in which she plays a woman facing the mother of all mid-life crises and battling with her teenage daughter.

“That will be so much fun. It’s a very meaty role for me,” says Turner.

As for a return of Kath & Kim: “never say never,” says Turner.

“We are having a nice lie down and trying to kill them off but they keep rearing their ugly heads. We do like them so who knows. I love doing Kath and I find her so easy to write for too. One day we might put her in a different format. She could have her own Tonight show or something.

“A long time ago we talked about a stage play. We love the cast and we love writing for them so we may do something, but who knows. At the moment we are happy to do other things.”

Rupert is at Sydney’s Theatre Royal, November 25 – December 21. Bookings: Ticketmaster 136 100

A version of this story appeared in the Sunday Telegraph on September 14