Perhaps it’s because there aren’t enough plays gracing our stages that focus on the lives of menopausal women that the subject matter of Jumpy seems somewhat fresh. If you’re not one yourself, it seems unlikely you’ll seek this kind of story out. But the fifty-something demographic is generally well represented in MTC audiences, so this British import by playwright April De Angelis should garner appreciative responses.
At the age of fifty, Hilary (Jane Turner) has recently been made redundant from her government job in literacy. Her fifteen year-old daughter Tilly (Brenna Harding) is actively pursuing sex with her boyfriend, while working equally hard at pushing her mother away with all the classic teenage groans and eye rolls. Meanwhile, Hilary’s sex life with her husband Mark (David Tredinnick) is tepid at best.
De Angelis’ situations seem truthful to the lives of many middle-aged parents of teenagers, in a David Williamson kind of way – that is, provided to generate recognition from an audience rather than being important to plot. But ultimately, this makes most of the play cliché: teenagers are generally moody, sex-obsessed animals; marital beds are places for nothing more than sleep (or book-reading); single best friends are always more sexually adventurous and encourage similar behaviour, yet their timid friends somehow attract romantic advances from the least likely of beaus.
Turner works like a Trojan all evening, only ever leaving the stage to make lightning fast costume changes, and she takes advantage of all the humour in the script, even adding a bit of her own with her trademark moves. However these physical references (to the likes of her character Margaret Bland) take her out of the part, and a very wobbly English accent often diverts towards Kath Day-Knight. Performances from the supporting cast are uniformly strong. Harding, who honed her teenage angst in Puberty Blues, is pitch perfect as Tilly, while Tariro Mavondo as her best friend and teen mum Lyndsey expertly delivers some hilarious one-liners. Marina Prior isn’t given a lot to work with as Hilary’s single best friend and confidante but shines in every scene she’s a part of, while Caroline Brazier proves there are no small parts as the fiercely defensive mother of Tilly’s boyfriend.
Director Pamela Rabe seems to have lost the value this play has to examine the ‘death’ of feminism amongst today’s middle-aged women. The short scenes are all played for their individual moments without a view to the whole. Hilary’s relationship with her husband never seems so lifeless that a separation is likely, nor does she seem as though she’d be pleased by the advances of the father of her daughter’s boyfriend (John Lloyd Fillingham), so it seems incongruous when both these things happen. Worst of all, poor Marina Prior is expected to perform a bizarre burlesque that falls flat with both its on and offstage audiences.
Michael Hankin’s set design makes intelligent use of a revolve to provide speedy scene changes, but the modernist use of raw timber panels to enclose the entire stage feels too heavy-handed and familiar to the MTC stages.
De Angelis’ script is all a bit mild really, as though the need for jeopardy (and a dramaturg) to ensure the plot has tension and intrigue were never considered important. This production has some nice comic moments along the way, but nothing so hilarious that it makes the tale feel more than just a pleasant diversion.