Review / Writing: Blog

Jumpy (from a feminist perspective) (****)

I had the pleasure of being invited to review Jumpy this week, as well as attend a debate beforehand about feminism – not being much of a feminist myself, I thought it might make for a pleasant change-of-pace. So, below is a review of Jumpy and a report from the debate – as well as my own masculine opinion enforced on top of it; please save the stiletto-stabbing for the end…

Left to right April De Angelis, Immodesty Blaize, Penny Smith, Dr. Rebecca Johnson and Olivia Grant © Dan Wooller

I suppose the only way to start this is to look at Jumpy from a feminist perspective – although April de Angelis, who was on the panel, seemed to be quite staunchly against defining the piece as such. It stands to reason that she wouldn’t – as mentioned in the discussion, the appellation ‘feminist’ seems to do more harm than good, evoking images of butch, grim women who eschew all forms of sanitation as a form of protest. That may just be the gruesome stereotype, but it’s hardly avoidable – although, to me, feminism is far less about the angry smelly woman in a field and more a way of thinking I find difficult to stomach. My main problem with it is that I’m not a fan of reducing arguments to just gender – I don’t think that a lot of what feminism (and feminists) seem to cover is really wholly in the proviso of discussions about gender, and that a lot of what’s being said would be more easily absorbable without the often impassioned female angle beforehand.

However, is that more to do with a genuine, rational argument, or being a man and not wanting to be growled at? Because that seems to be a common problem men have with feminism – not that it exists, or that what it does isn’t grand, but that the arguments are often codified around a vilification of masculinity. Men are the aggressors, the dominators, and feminism as an attempt to fight back – at least, that’s a level at which I’ve always felt it. Then again, as a big, burly fella with an aggressively assertive and argumentative disposition, maybe I’m bringing that on myself… which has always been the beauty, for me, in issues of gender – most men have absolutely no idea how they come across, nor have they ever really worried about it – which drives woman mad. Cue sitcom.

And this is where Jumpy, for me, places itself – it’s absolutely a play about gender, but it doesn’t sit resolutely on the feminist side of the argument. Hilary’s (Tamsin Greig) feminist ideals are an important part of her character and make for a wonderful foil for the host of characters that she interacts with, but it’s not a theme that the play decides on – Greenham is a topic here more as a window into Hilary’s character, not an important plot point. Like most great theatre shows, it displays various ideas, then needles them until you make up your own mind. And that’s what this is, a very good play – excellently written, well-performed and a very slick production. De Angelis has created a lovely scenario for a fraught mother-daughter relationship to buckle and bend around, and it’s an excellent role for an actress who is so much more than the clever comedienne she plays on TV.

Tamsin Greig (Hilary), Bel Powley (Tilly) © Robert Workman

Often described as a play about mid-life crisis, the plot follows Greig’s Hilary through her relationships with her husband and her daughter – it is, largely, the arguments between mother and child, especially on the fraught subjects of love and sex, but there is a greater character arc here for Hilary: it’s more of a character piece than a lot of the press gives it credit for. Greig’s own argument that there aren’t many great roles for middle-aged women (and that this is a notable exception) rings rather true – not only is she excellent, but she’s given something to really sink her teeth into, a character with highs and lows and plenty to say and do.

The piece itself hops around a bit, although the general mother-daughter main arc is the easiest to absorb. Bel Powley does a grand job as the rebellious Tilly, although her outfit choices leaned just the wrong side of postage stamp for an underage actress – a little disconcerting, although maybe that was the point? It certainly became more fitting as the plot arc developed with a possible pregnancy – which also leads to some of the funniest moments in the piece. It does work as a comedy – there’s plenty of laugh out load moments, including some of Doon Mackichan’s more outrageous moments (watch out for the burlesque act, which also explains Immodesty’s presence on the panel), but the comedy is generally gentler than expected – some scenes could be funnier, or potentially a little snappier – the show sags a little in the first half while introducing everybody, with a couple of groaners thrown in there too.

Doon Mackichan (Frances), Tamsin Greig (Hilary) © Robert Workman

The smattering of other performers do have plenty to say and do, but don’t really stand out – not awful, just not as well painted as the two leads and her irrepressible best friend. So, as a play with so many interesting female characters, does that make it staunchly feminist? Not to me. Maybe I’m entirely the wrong person to be approaching a piece from this angle, but I don’t see the feminist angle here really – there’s a couple of hints in the text, but it’s not the thrust of the piece. Other reviewers have described it as being more about a mid-life crisis: seconded (well, thirty-sixthed or thereabouts, but that really doesn’t have a ring to it). It also carries more weight as a character piece – and the main reason I wanted to see it and the best thing about the piece is still Tamsin Greig.

And just to reiterate: I may not be a feminist, and I don’t this is a particularly feminist play, but I have absolutely nothing against feminists. Although I would have thought they might be a little more annoyed to have their message so shamelessly used for marketing…

Bel Powley (Tilly), Tamsin Greig (Hilary) © Robert Workman

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