Jumpy, Royal Court Downstairs, London
Inadmissable Evidence, Donmar Warehouse, London
Sixty-Six Books, Bush, London
A middle-age crisis makes for a lame sitcom, but a 24-hour play cycle rewards our up-all-night critic
Sunday 23 October 2011
She isn't happy. In April De Angelis's new comedy Jumpy, Tamsin Greig's Hilary has hit 50, we're told.
She's neurotically worried and depressed about ageism in the jobs market. Her daughter Tilly (Bel Powley) is a scornful teen, dolled up like a cartoon tart, clumping around in mega-heels, not giving a fig for mum's old feminist principles. Her singleton actress-friend, Doon Mackichan's Frances, mutton dressed as lamb, claims that the "burlesque" routine she's devising is a piece of empowered, post-modern irony, assuring Hilary that dirty dancing in a French maid's outfit will make her, too, feel like a new woman.
Basically, this is a lame sitcom, a variation on Ab Fab with the add-on of the Royal Court's current favourite theme – namely, the lost ideals of past decades. Hilary's backstory – Greenham protests – is barely integrated, and the dialogue mostly stilted. Greig manages to be funny, sweet and sad. Ewan Stewart, as her steady husband, is touchingly natural. They're surrounded by 2D caricatures, though, and Nina Raine's production fails to explain why Hilary is attracted to an adulterous smarmball, there being no sexual chemistry with Richard Lintern's Roland.
In Inadmissable Evidence – written by John Osborne in 1964 – the solicitor Bill Maitland is an Angry Ageing Man, incorrigible womaniser, vituperative git and alcoholic. Staggering around his dingy office on a chaotic working day, he's so insufferable that he could end up forsaken by everyone: staff, mistresses, wife, daughter.
Alas, in Jamie Lloyd's Donmar revival, Bill is also a motor-mouthed bore. Played by Douglas Hodge with surreal vaudevillean moments, he's never quite searingly nasty or howlingly funny. And the supporting roles aren't scintillating either. The playwright barely lets the female characters get a word in. Soutra Gilmour's set has some film noirish menace with its dirty skylights and yellowing blinds. But Bill bangs on, fulminating and floundering, interminably.
In January, the Donmar's artistic directorship will pass from Michael Grandage to Josie Rourke. Meanwhile, she's hardly resting on her laurels as the Bush's outgoing AD. Sixty-Six Books is a 24-hour cycle of new works by 66 writers incuding Jeanette Winterson, Wole Soyinka, Billy Bragg, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the list goes on.
Staged by Rourke and 22 other directors, with 130 actors, each script is a response to one book of the Bible: an alternative, notably anti-patriarchal and sometimes irreverent angle on the King James Bible quatercentenary. It kicks off with a satirical Godblog by Jeanette Winterson, performed by a power-shouldered Catherine Tate ("God here. People ask me how I came to be a global brand").
You can dip a toe in the water, see a few hours then head home. But I'd recommend total immersion (7pm to 7pm) for a sense of communal bonding and slightly delirious euphoria. It is, moreover, little short of miraculous that Rourke has got this up and running, like clockwork, as the first show in the Bush's completed new venue: a converted library that feels homely and relaxed, with a book-lined lounge and a bar that manages to feed and water everyone.
Inevitably, there's some chaff. Some scripts are overlong or obscure. The low-ceilinged auditorium also became sweltering. But this thrust staging, with flickering candles, is beautifully intimate, and the passing hours are scattered with gems: some richly poetic, some delicately capturing the inarticulacies of modern-day speech and bewildered pain at cruelties human or divine. There's a fantastically vivid description of Jonah's journey of despair and salvation, in the belly of the whale, by Nick Laird. Rowan Williams's ruminations on Lazarus and what "I am the Resurrection" can possibly mean are more intellectually puzzled than preachy.
Fetching up in the middle of the night, Juliet Stevenson performs an electrifying sensual answer to the Song of Solomon, by Carol Ann Duffy. And the musical contributions are transcendent. Billy Bragg singing his socialist folk ballad "Do unto others" is a breath of fresh air, as the theatre windows are flung open and the morning light floods in.
'Jumpy' (020-7565 5000) to 19 Nov; 'Inadmissable Evidence' (0844 871 7624) to 26 Nov; 'Sixty-Six Books' (020-8743 5050) to 29 Oct
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