Sixteen and fifty are two of the most pressurised birthdays to celebrate – metaphorically entering adulthood at one end of life and (if society is to be believed) officially passing over the hill at the other. The simultaneous occurrence of the two in April De Angelis’s house inspired her to pen Jumpy, a play about growing-up-and-growing-old centred on an increasingly fractious mother-daughter relationship.
That this is not a play about happy marriages and smooth parent-child relationships is immediately suggested by the arresting and inventively used set. Piled high with furniture it seems constantly poised to fall upon the actors and crush them beneath the weight of all the accumulated stuff of fifty years of life and marriage. The whole stage is even portentously frayed around the edges, hinting at the rocky road ahead.
Chiefly persecuted is Hilary, played by Pauline Knowles. She is a washed-out woman dressed all in grey who worries about her job and the future, who struggles to understand her increasingly alien fifteen-year-old daughter Tilly (Molly Vevers), and who drinks a bit too much. Knowles plays her with skill and empathy, capturing an every-mother feel that will be familiar to parents and children alike.
Regrettably, the other characters are too often reduced to caricature to be consistently interesting or insightful. The production is well acted but apart from the understated and perennially tired seeming Mark (Hilary’s husband, played by Stephen McCole), the supporting characters are far too two dimensional.
The young people, particularly, are largely reduced to stomping around the stage moaning: ‘But Mu-um’ and hiding behind sunglasses. It would be nice to hear more from the daughters in this tale of mothers and daughters. Too often they are talked about rather than to, leading to an occasionally preachy tone.
When the genuine fears of the younger characters are touched upon – the slut-shaming of Tilly via Facebook or the panic felt by teenage mother Lyndsey (Dani Heron) – they are glossed over too swiftly or even greeted with laughter by an audience closer to fifty than sixteen. Jumpy would be a more powerful play if the problems and concerns of its teens were explored with more sympathy.
In contrast, the difficulties of getting older and holding together a marriage, job and social life are expertly handled. Hilary watches through the bottom of a wine glass as her life and the lives of her friends career out of control with a sense of pained bewilderment. ‘The best we can expect is avoiding the worst’, sighs best pal Frances (Gail Watson), epitomising the play’s occasionally cynical world-view.
However, this cynicism is off-set with a healthy dose of humour. Jumpy is full of laugh-out-loud situations and one-liners which keep the overall tone light even when the subject matter becomes dark. The supporting characters deliver well executed comic turns and wry reminiscences which clearly strike a chord with the audience while Hilary and Mark’s easy repartee raises plenty of laughs.
Ultimately, Jumpy is a touching and funny story about getting older and all the trials which that brings in work, love and children. It would be a more powerful piece if the young characters had a stronger voice, but the life and verve of this production make it a thoroughly enjoyable and worthwhile play to see.