Review: Jellyfish, Dorfman Theatre

‘But she always tells me I’m the same as everybody else’ says Kelly. 

‘She’ is her mother Agnes, who struggles to accept that her daughter is in love with Neil. Why? 27-year-old Kelly has Down’s Syndrome. Neil doesn’t, and Agnes is furious. 

The effortless talent of Sarah Gordy draws us in immediately. As Kelly, she is equal parts ferocious and funny. Her relationship with Agnes – played brilliantly by Penny Layden – is a complicated example of parent-child angst, and together they explore what it is to parent a child with a disability. 

Jellyfish is a story of love. The love of a mother, but also the innocence of first love. It is instantly relatable, and yet, in so many ways, entirely different to anything we have seen before. Siôn Daniel Young’s Neil is excellent. The relationship between him and Gordy fizzes with energy. 

Agnes is wary of Neil, believing him to be using Kelly as easy prey. She’s concerned her daughter will be sexually exploited. Agnes tells him he must end his relationship with Kelly, and attempts to bring a new man into the fold.

Enter Nicky Priest as Dominic, a young man with Asperger’s who has ‘never been kissed’. Priest shows a precise and skilled comic-timing that leaves the audience howling with laughter. Indeed, many of the most humorous moments come when he is interacting with the other characters.

Each is nurtured and developed, and although the play was written as a vehicle for Gordy’s talents, all four shine. The steady direction of Tim Hoare allows Ben Weatherill’s writing to flourish before our eyes. The simplicity of plot belies a complex realisation of humanity. It is clear Hoare understands this and conveys it perfectly.

So often, Agnes and Neil are not able to articulate their feelings without relying on hyperbole and figures of speech, whereas Kelly is honest – at times brutally so – as can often be the case for people with neurodiverse ‘disabilities’. She is a breath of fresh air.  

Set in Skegness, the audience is transported to a summer at the seaside with lambent hues backlighting the stage and a brilliantly realised set from Amy Jane Cook, evoking sun-kissed memories of lazy days by the sea – pebbled beaches, carnival rides, chips and mushy peas.

This coming of age story about a young woman with Down’s Syndrome leaves us humming with excitement upon leaving the Dorfman. I can see why the play has returned to the London stage following a sold-out run at the Bush Theatre last year. It is piquant – unashamedly so – and you would be a fool to miss it.

Jellyfish played at the Dorfman Theatre until 16 July. For more information visit the National Theatre website.