Fuelled by perpetual waves of exasperation, likable comic actor Tamsin Greig (Black Books, Green Wing) sets the mumsiness to full throttle in this exploration of middle-aged anxiety and middle-class failing.
Greig’s Hilary may have put her days of active protest behind her as she stepped away from Greenham Common, but her participation in communal campaigns left its mark and her feminist spirit still lives on as she angrily confronts her 50s. Unfortunately, while the statement protests of the 80s gave a certain cohesion to gender-related arguments, the third wave of feminism has fragmented the cause, recognising the diversity of women and enabling them to disagree. Pushed back into the personal sphere, Hilary is left to tackle a number of more ambiguous feminist issues, with nothing but her own inarticulate moral code to guide her.
With lipstick feminism leaving an ugly smear across the women’s rights movement, and in the absence of a united battle, April de Angelis turns to the family unit throughout this light-hearted narrative of modern-day feminism. Anxious about her own unemployability and weakened sexual appeal, Hilary focuses her feminist eye on her teenaged daughter. Sixteen years old and dressed in a skin-tight dress and stilettos, Tilly becomes the model of the modern woman, and through her the production gently explores how female identity is built on male desire. Differences between the genders are then further interrogated through a conversation with the parents of Tilly’s boyfriend, an interaction that is brilliantly flavoured with a sharp dose of maternal spite, direct from Amanda Root.
Bel Powley is excellent as Tilly, never letting her mother feel comfortable as she swings from thoughtless defiance to trusting vulnerability. At times though, Tilly seems more like a hologram of a mother’s anxiety, than a woman in her own right. She dresses to seduce and swears to shock. Abandoning the well spoken accents of her parents in favour of slang and lazy pronunciation, the character of Tilly simplifies the issues that modern-day feminists are attempting to bring to light. The sexualisation of young women is positioned as a threat to high GCSE results and, in discussions surrounding a young woman who channels a touch of the Pollard, little is said about the subtlety of ingrained gendered expectations.
The real intelligence behind Jumpy becomes apparent when April de Angelis urges us to focus on Hilary, a woman who is absorbed in her own gendered problems yet oblivious to the parallels between her own and her daughter’s situation. Throughout, the crisp script attacks a society where a 50 year old woman is afraid to reveal a flesh-coloured swimsuit, while her best friend Frances, played with a catty and shameless flair by the inspirational and bold Doon Mackichan, feels determined to try out her new burlesque routine. Here, Angelis has presented the sort of debilitating moral cloudiness that naturally results in our fierce feminist donning the costume of a pre-liberation woman in an attempt to ironically capture her own sexuality. Angelis tells us that modern feminism is a complicated and paradoxical thing: as Tamsin Greig gyrates on a West End stage wearing a maid’s uniform and fishnets, this is crystal clear.
Jumpy is playing at Duke of York’s Theatre until 3rd November. For more information and tickets, see the Royal Court Theatre. Photo by Robert Workman.