Following the life and imminent nervous breakdown of 50-year-old Hilary (Tasmin Greig) and her perpetual battles with gobby, underdressed and un-dressed teenage daughter Tilly (Bel Powley), Jumpy has at its base the trappings of a fun, family drama. However, watching Tilly risk stress fractures with each stamp across the room, and Hilary quaffing another bottle of white, a strange wave of familiarity washed over me. As a twenty-something, I found myself in a strange middle ground, old enough to remember the boob tubes and tantrums, but not old enough to fully understand the trauma of seeing your daughter in aforementioned boob tube. Or indeed to contemplate the young testosterone-filled admirers of her boob tube. But there is more to Jumpy and the standard mother-daughter relationship it depicts, than tarty teens and ill-advised sexual encounters.
Greig’s nervy yet endearing performance of Hilary truly drives the play, teetering on the edge in the face of renegade daughters, fraught marriages and panic attacks on the tube. Laughed off by her husband Mark (Ewan Stewart) – and indeed the audience – this first allusion to Hilary’s internal struggles exemplifies Hilary’s sadness, and her feelings of hopelessness, from the opening scene. Thankfully, she can count on best friend Frances (Doon Mackichan) to pick her up. Eccentric and over-sexed – or that’s the way she would like it – Frances is the polar opposite of Hilary in many ways. While Frances harnesses her sexuality in, well, a harness, in the empowering realms of burlesque in perhaps one of the most riotous performances I’ve ever seen in the West End, Hilary hides in towelling dressing gowns. After all, mums can’t be sexy. Mums are embarrassing and poor Tilly even has one who dares mention the c-word (not that one…) contraception, and even wears jeans. Heaven forefend!
But what joins Frances and Hilary together is their shared history at the start of something pivotal, their involvement in a time where girls united not to get pissed and kiss boys, but to hold hands and protest for what was right at Greenham Common. With this, Jumpy transcends to another level as a play about what happens when feminists grow up. And what happens when those brave women must now sit back and watch their daughters abuse it?
Beneath the hilarity that is rife throughout the play, it is this more serious line of thought that resonates. With the male characters happy on the back seat, pawns in the women’s existential crises, Jumpy reinstates the female voice on the stage – fragile and powerful in one breath. Achingly perceptive, to the extent that each laugh – of which there are many – is followed by a distinct pathos upon the realisation of the truth behind, Jumpy offers a mirror to all stages of womanhood. Whether you were one of the girls evading your mother’s desperation for you to put pants on or you are the mother watching your daughter take advantage of the Pill and the hemlines you fought for, or indeed the men who play their part in our bizarre world, Jumpy is a true celebration of female power and the bonds that still span the generations.
Expertly played by a starry ensemble of old and new talents alike, and written with wit and tenderness in equal measure, Jumpy is not to be missed.
Jumpy runs until 3 November at:
Duke of York’s Theatre
St Martin’s Lane
Box Office: 0844 871 7623
Photo: Robert Workman