Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House, March 28
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).
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.
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