Jumpy (Melbourne Theatre Company, 2015)

The combination of Kath & Kim’s Jane Turner, Puberty Blues’ Brenna Harding, and Australian musical theatre darling Marina Prior in MTC’s Jumpy seemingly promised a wonderful concoction of Aussie comic delight. But then it turned out to be British. Bollocks. I understand that it’s by a British playwright, with references to the tube and beach holidays in Norfolk peppered throughout, and that Australian audiences are no strangers to productions relying on American or British accents. But when your stars are known primarily for their quintessentially Aussie performances, it’s almost disconcerting to hear them straining to sound British. All it would have taken was a few minor changes to the script and Jumpy would have transferred seamlessly to an Australian setting. If the Americans can make an – albeit crap – local adaptation of OUR Kath & Kim, then I don’t think I’m asking too much.

David Tredinnick & Jane Turner
David Tredinnick & Jane Turner

Accents aside, Jumpy didn’t make me jump for joy. I’m clearly not the target audience, and I think my mum enjoyed it more than I did. Jane Turner plays Hilary, a fifty year old mother of bratty fifteen year old Tilly (Brenna Harding). Her marriage is dull, her job unstable, and she’s a neurotic, menopausal mess. But as if that isn’t enough, her daughter really is a monumental pain in the arse. Bringing home boys at all hours of the night, refusing to spend time with family, and consistently mouthing off, Tilly is every parent’s nightmare. If one good thing came of our mother-daughter trip to the theatre, it’s hopefully that my mum realised I REALLY WASN’T THAT BAD. The middle-to-late-age audience laughed their jolly socks off as Hilary’s struggles resonated with them, while I gave the occasional smirk at the family tiffs that I could identify with. I didn’t find the overall story particularly compelling, but I assume that’s because I’m under 30.

Brenna Harding & Tariro Mavondo
Brenna Harding & Tariro Mavondo

Jane Turner is naturally comedic, but it’s almost a shame to see her in a much more restrained role than we’re used to. She shouldn’t be type-cast though, and she demonstrated she is more than capable of toning it down for the sake of drama. Brenna Harding is utterly convincing as the troubled Tilly, stomping around in skimpy clothing and only taking a break from her iPhone to roll her eyes in an exaggerated fashion. She’s a star on the rise for certain. As someone who isn’t much of a Marina Prior fan I was pleasantly surprised with her enjoyable performance, but the jokes about her character contemplating plastic surgery were a bit hard to take because, well, have you seen her face? That ship has well and truly sailed. Supporting performances by David Tredinnick, John Lloyd Fillingham, Caroline Brazier, Dylan Watson, Laurence Boxhall and the deadpan Tariro Mavondo were all strong, despite the script.

Caroline Brazier, Tariro Mavondo & John Lloyd Fillingham
Caroline Brazier, Tariro Mavondo & John Lloyd Fillingham

Jumpy hints at some interesting issues but the dialogue is often awkward, and just not that engaging.  Perhaps playwright April De Angelis’ intention was to portray the mundanity of everyday life, but conversations between characters rarely felt natural. I don’t demand intellectual dialogue, and I appreciate when characters speak like real people, but Jumpy rests at some dreary middle ground between intelligent and realistic which was not at all exciting. Nevertheless, I must commend the MTC for delivering a work which focuses primarily on women and their experience. In addition to the mother-daughter dynamic, De Angelis explores female friendships, sex drives, ageing bodies, and interactions with the feminist movement. This is meaty material with so much potential, but is let down by bland writing.

Brenna Harding & Jane Turner
Brenna Harding & Jane Turner

The staging is minimal but effective, and Jane Turner’s deliberately awkward scrambling between sets was a fun and quirky touch. I did worry at the cups of tea and glasses of wine balanced precariously on the arm of the couch, but the furniture was pretty ugly and the supply of wine abundant so I suppose there couldn’t be much harm done. With a great cast and a relatable storyline for past and present parents of teenagers, there is much to value in Jumpy. I might be a little too young, and considering the play’s bleak outlook, that is something I am thankful for.

3 stars

Jumpy is playing at the Southbank Theatre until 14th March


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