Tamsin Greig, although greatly respected amongst the critics, isn’t as famous as she should be. That might be because she’s often cast in crummy new comedies, which prove rickety vehicles for her considerable skills. Thankfully, April de Angelis’ play, Jumpy, showcases Greig’s superb comic talent, as well as her massive heart. This comedy about mid-life crises and teenage traumas is sharp and insightful, if not a little slight. Yet Greig’s presence – her ability to invest even a single word with such rich meaning – lends this play more weight than perhaps it deservers.
Greig hits the comic bullseye, over and over again, without ever seemingly ‘performing’. It’s like watching a wonderfully self-contained stand up show. Greig plays Hilary – a harried mother with a reticent husband, reckless daughter and recession-hit job. She gulps down her wine but never guzzles. She nails her one-liners and involves the audience, without ever stepping out of role. And, perhaps most importantly, she is a generous actress, outshining her co-stars but never so dazzling that they’re lost altogether.
When Greig’s Hilary and Doon Mackichan’s Frances share the stage – two fifty-year-old friends moaning about their miserable, mid-life crises - we’re treated to a masterclass on two contrasting comic acting styles. Machichan’s extrovert character, who has a penchant for burlesque and an unquenchable thirst for men, struts around stage like a soldier on heat. She’s all legs and leery one liners. It is the type of fired up performance that could’ve burnt out but Greig’s more understated, yet equally entertaining, turn keeps things grounded.
Director Nina Raine, too, has shored up this play with some excellent physical observations. Each character has its own distinctive and revealing tics. After Greig’s Hilary mortifies her daughter, Tilly (Bel Powley), the livid teenager storms across stage as though trapped in a cage: ‘I hate you!’. Leaving for a night out, Tilly – donning impossibly high heels – clambers down the stairs like a kid learning to walk. And mother, Hilary, seems attached to her daughter, shadowing her across stage until a door is, inevitably, slammed in her face.
Lizzie Clachlan’s set is clever too, with the bleached white walls concealing the normal family clutter; temporarily hidden but always on the verge of spilling over. Hilary and her husband’s bedroom stands way backstage, cavelike, reflective of this once frisky but now forgotten arena.
Despite all this, Jumpy loses its bounce in the second half. As the plot kicks in, DeAngelis finds increasingly infeasible ways to wriggle out of her storylines. The family struggles with news of Tilly’s pregancy – only to be ‘let off’ by a miscarriage. There’s an interesting scene in which Hilary bonds with a sexy and smart young lad - but his overburdened back-history renders him ridiculous. And, just as Hilary is set to embark on her first date, Tilly accidentally lets off a gunshot and lets the writer off the hook. The scenes start to sweat with the effort of trying to really ‘mean something’ and the play’s shortcomings – for all the brilliant performances and inspired burlesque numbers – start to shine through.