The Royal Court is on a roll in the West End, with Enron, Jerusalem, Posh and now April de Angelis’s Jumpy transferring after successful runs. Of all these, Jumpy has undergone the smoothest transition. At the Royal Court last autumn I couldn’t help but feel – despite my laughter – that the theatre was playing it safe. The Court has long been known for productions edgier than the West End’s musicals and drawing room comedies, but Jumpy seemed already to belong there.
The play is set in middle-class north London and centres on 50-year-old Hilary (a superb Tamsin Greig), whose life is beginning to unravel. Her job at a reading support unit is threatened by austerity cuts; her foul-mouthed 15-year-old daughter Tilly (Bel Powley) is more interested in sex than schoolwork; and her marriage, usually held together “by habit”, is on the rocks. She was once part of the women’s peace camp at Greenham Common; now, her idealism has lost some – but not all – of its sheen. It is easier to have beliefs than to live by them.
When Hilary and her gentle but ineffectual husband Mark (Ewan Stewart) meet Tilly’s boyfriend’s parents to discuss how to manage their offspring’s sexual relations, it becomes clear that it’s the adults who need guidance. Greig is brilliant as a woman of conviction but also of everyday pressures. As she wonders whether “50 is too old to put on a CV”, her friend Frances (Doon Mackichan, also excellent) tells her: “Being a woman and growing old is a disaster!” Both Frances, an ageing actress now trying her hand at burlesque, and Tilly, sleeping her way around teenage parties, consider themselves sexually assertive. But, as Hilary says, they must ask themselves whether they’re asserting what they want. For her, feminism means real choice.
Jumpy is, above all, a comedy. With characters that veer in and out of caricature, it doesn’t set out to be a wholly naturalistic portrait of parenting or adolescence. And under Nina Raine’s direction, the comic timing is spot-on: Greig barely has to pour herself a glass of wine and the audience is tittering. It is often very funny, and certainly a crowd pleaser, even if some of the laughs are just too easy. Go for Greig’s perfectly pitched combination of nervy energy, self-doubt and steel, but don’t expect the boundary-pushing of other recent Royal Court hits.