Jumpy, Royal Court, London
Painfully funny portrayal of a woman on the verge of a breakdown
Monday 24 October 2011
Set in the repressed 1950s, Mike Leigh's latest play, Grief, dramatises the tension between a mother and her 15- year-old daughter.
The tight, festering disputes there are over duffel coats, permission for a glass of sherry before dinner, the swotting schedule for O levels. Though it ends in disaster, it all looks a doddle by comparison with the equivalent present-day relationship in Jumpy, April De Angelis's wincingly funny new play at the Royal Court. But then, as the heroine remarks, we live in a culture that subjects teenage girls to a constant bombardment of images of air-brushed, hyper-sexualised women. No wonder they feel that they "have to be sexual to be human".
Hilary (excellent Tamsin Greig) once protested at Greenham Common but now, as a 50-year-old middle-class mother with a shop-owner husband, her campaigns for change are inclined to be concentrated on her stroppy daughter, Tilly (Bel Powley), who dresses like a tart and is discovered to be having sex with her boyfriend (likewise 15). Tilly's hormonal surge and undisguised contempt for maternal concern coincides with Hilary's grieving for her own lost youth, her worry that the cuts will axe her job with a reading support unit, and the splintering – as she and her husband struggle to deal with teenage precocity and pregnancy – of a marriage that had latterly been held together by habit.
Adroitly directed by Nina Raine, the play is an ebullient mix of broad comedy and subtler intuitions and it continually makes you writhe with recognition. Hilary's unreconstructed belief that a woman should know what she actually wants and not just crave male validation is wittily contrasted with the outlook of the other females in the play. To Tilly, who's never heard of the Berlin Wall but knows everything about "vagina neck", that position is meaningless. Man-hungry, envious of the young and desperate to revive her flagging theatrical career, Doon Mackichan's slapstick Frances has convinced herself that her terminally embarrassing burlesque routines count as "post-feminist irony". Meanwhile, the mother of Tilly's deflowerer (all embattled, gorgon-glare in Sarah Woodward's droll portrayal) proves to be a monster of manipulative double standards, insisting that, where unwanted teenage pregnancy is concerned, it's the boy who pays the higher price.
Greig is terrific in the central role – effortlessly shifting between the comedy of deadpan, incredulous exasperation and movingly understated, wrung-out grief.
To 19 November (020 7565 5000)
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