Jumpers, Piccadilly Theatre, London

Many small leaps for mankind

The West End premiere of David Leveaux's revival of Jumpers - now transferred from the National - coincided with anti-Bush demonstrations in London, the sounds of which were audible in the theatre. This was in piquant contrast to the television pictures we saw on stage. Set at the time of the original lunar landings, Tom Stoppard's 1972 play imagines a dystopian England where a radical liberal party has just swept to power (hence the black-and-white footage of cheering crowds), and where a perniciously pliable moral relativism is corrupting the body politic.

With the protests against the US President as a backdrop, the play was revealingly recontextualised. The juxtaposition reminded us that we have as much to fear from politicians whose belief in the existence of absolute values leads them to imagine that one of God's intrinsic and inalienable properties is that He is "on our side". A justly famous line in the play, "It's not the voting that's democracy; it's the counting", could not, in such circumstances, help but call to mind that Bush was himself not elected by a majority.

And talking of minorities, I should, in the interests of fairness, declare that my largely negative response to the evening appears to be a solo turn. To me, the play looks as dated as its conceit that man's lunar conquest would rob the moon-June-spoon type of song of its romance. As an emotionally powerful and enduring use of space travel as a metaphor for human relations on earth, Robert Lepage's Far Side of the Moon leaves this one stuck on the launchpad.

Jumpers is sometimes said to be a philosophical farce, a genre that converts ideas into action with devastating yet conceptually clarifying consequences. It is certainly true that it has a philosopher hero; the eponymous tumbling troupe of professional thinkers, who perform physical as well as mental gymnastics; and undergraduate gags with long-term payoffs, such as the maladroit use of a pet tortoise and hare to demonstrate Zeno's paradox.

But in the best examples of the genre, the propensities of farce inextricably mesh with the habits of a particular way of thinking and produce mayhem - as when Terry Johnson played with the link between the principles of Freudian analysis and trouser-dropping exposure in the hilarious Hysteria. By contrast, there is a lamentable lack of momentum or coherence in Jumpers, a deficiency not remedied by Vicky Mortimer's clumsy set, with its revolve that obligingly trundles round to reveal the study, bedroom and hall of the professor's abode. It might have been expressly designed to underline the sketchy, stop-go nature of the proceedings.

Simon Russell Beale is always worth the price of a ticket - and here he needs to be. With one possible caveat, he gives a superb performance as George, the professor of moral philosophy who is so preoccupied with his efforts to dictate a lecture on God, goodness and moral absolutes that he fails to notice that his wife (a beautiful but two-dimensional Essie Davis) is having a nervous breakdown, and that there's a dead body in the flat.

A squat figure wrapped in a shapeless brown cardigan, Beale's George brilliantly veers between a beaky, donnish self-importance and marital and professional insecurity. He lets you see both the smirking don, whose fat chops lick and relish his own bons mots, and the melancholy cuckolded egghead who knows that the yolk is on him. More than any other actor, he has the ability to make the struggle to formulate arguments sound like a passionate and accessible activity, even when the speeches are as immense and habitually derailed into farce as they are in this play.

You could quibble that the self-doubting George would not be able, even in fantasy, to try out his lecture drafts on us with the direct, over-the-footlights engagement that Beale achieves. But that arguable inconsistency is a small price to pay for the warmth and humanity that this great actor injects into the proceedings.

To 6 March (020-7369 1734)

Arts and Entertainment
War veteran and father of Peter and Laust Thoger Jensen played by Lars Mikkelson

TVBBC hopes latest Danish import will spell success

Arts and Entertainment
Carey Mulligan in Far From The Madding Crowd
FilmCarey Mulligan’s Bathsheba would fit in better in The Hunger Games
Arts and Entertainment
Pandas-on-heat: Mary Ramsden's contribution is intended to evoke the compound the beasts smear around their habitat
Iart'm Here But You've Gone exhibition has invited artists to produce perfumes
Arts and Entertainment
U2's Songs of Innocence album sleeve

tvU2’s latest record has been accused of promoting sex between men

Arts and Entertainment
Alison Steadman in Inside No.9
tvReview: Alison Steadman stars in Inside No.9's brilliant series finale Spoiler alert
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
    'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

    'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

    British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
    Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

    Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

    Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
    14 best kids' hoodies

    14 best kids' hoodies

    Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

    The acceptable face of the Emirates

    Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk