Jumpy: Whatever happened to feminism?

The Royal Court’s production of April de Angelis’s Jumpy, which just finished a celebrated run at the Duke of York Theatre, depicts a turbulent mother/daughter relationship. Like de Angelis’s The Positive Hour (a play I have read but not seen), Jumpy deals with female empowerment and the legacy of feminism.

Tasmin Grieg (previously only known to me from the TV show Episodes) stars as Hilary, the modern, socially-liberal mum of Tilly, a monstrous, over-sexualized sixteen year old.  Hilary and her girlfriend Francis were feminist crusaders in the early eighties and the play indirectly asks the question, what has the feminist movement achieved?  Has Hilary’s hard-fought battle for women’s lib won her daughter the right to her stilettos and loud sex with her boyfriend in her mother’s home?  Are Tilly’s sexual liberation and Hilary’s friend Francis’s burlesque dancing manifestations of female empowerment, or signs that feminism has lost its way?

But all that makes the play sound more pious and less enjoyable than it is.  In fact, wonderfully witty dialogue and very funny performances made Jumpy a most enjoyable evening.  Tasmin Grieg is phenomenal as the idealistic but fraught Hilary.  Her performance found a truthful balance between comedy and pathos.  Doon Mackichan is also outstanding as Frances, Hilary’s comically desperate single friend.  Though I found Tilly (Bel Powley) too unrelentingly garish to become a three-dimensional character.

As in de Angelis’s The Positive Hour, the male characters are flat and pathetic.  Admittedly, Richard Lintern gave a memorable performance as the self-obsessed father of Tilly’s boyfriend.  Ewan Stewart as Tilly’s husband Mark, was likable but wasn’t given much to do.  The play’s other male characters, are, as far as I can tell, only there to be objects of female desire.

On the whole, however, the production was so enjoyable that it was hard to notice that de Angelis’s script often threatened to veer out of control and belie credibility.  A pregnancy scare, marital breakdown, a gunshot wound, menopause, burlesque and the consequences of David Cameron’s austerity measures were all thrown into the mix.  That the play cohered is a testament to excellent direction and some well-judged performances.




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