Jumpy Draws Money, Tamsin TwinklesDate: 20 October 2011
West End producers were understandably hovering around Sloane Square last night, sniffing at the no doubt sure-fire commercial potential of Tamsin Greig giving a wonderful performance as a lost fifty year-old mum in April De Angelis's Jumpy at the Royal Court.
Howard Panter of ATG blew into the bar downstairs before the show, displacing fifty people in his wake and hugging every other one of them. Sonia Friedman shimmered more mysteriously on the sidelines -- tired, wasted, inscrutable: who can tell? -- while Nica Burns and Max Wietzenhoffer of Nimax Theatres sat neatly together at the back of the stalls. Carole Winter was cheerfully on hand, too.
One way of looking at Jumpy, as I do in my Whatsonstage.com review, is as a feminist retort to Simon Gray, with Tamsin as the Butley-style central vortex sucking out the life of others around her; except she's not really selfish in the way Gray's male anti-heroes are.
Nor is she particularly self-obsessed. She's got a big problem with her daughter, and the lacerating exchanges between Greig and Bel Powley -- last seen here in Polly Stenham's second play, Tusk Tusk -- are uncomfortable reminders of how we all, to a greater or lesser extent (lesser, I hope), spoke to our parents at that age.
Greig has a God-given gift of flickering emotional transparency allied to instinctive comic skill -- in this she's a little like Maggie Smith -- which is why she was such a very good Beatrice for the RSC. I was less keen on her flat-out, full-volume comedy turn as a monstrous agent in The Little Dog Laughed but she was absolutely terrific in God of Carnage with Ralph Fiennes.
Things critics never get round to discussing in their reviews: the sponsors, the lighting plot, the costumes...and, quite often, the play's title. Jumpy turns out to be horrid teenage daughter's favourite bendy childhood animal, which she immolates as a rite of passage in her first term at college. Or does she?
There's a feeling that the horrendous, attritional stand-off between mother and daughter is something that just has to be gone through as a prelude to some better, maturer level of understanding. And I can see this subject fuelling countless magazine articles and ten-minute discussion spots on Woman's Hour for weeks to come.
Whatever the fate of Jumpy, Greig's performance is one of the finest we've seen all year. Douglas Hodge, too, has been acclaimed for his allegedly outstanding performance as Bill Maitland (the Nicol Williamson role) in John Osborne's Inadmissible Evidence at the Donmar Warehouse.
What do they have in common, Greig and Hodge? They miss the cut by a day or so for the Evening Standard's awards long list, which seems slightly unfortunate. It's always fun to point out the omissions from these lists, of course, but within the limitations of its own absurd time scale, the long list is almost over-careful to cover all possible bases.
The year's three top shows at the National, for instance -- Frankenstein, London Road and One Man, Two Guvnors -- are all abundantly represented. And the RSC's Matilda looks set fair for honours, though of course it hasn't opened in London yet, which makes any nomination technically dubious.
I'm sorry Rupert Everett's interesting and original Professor Higgins hasn't made the Best Actor list, and the Best Play list looks a bit thin (no Grief, no Decade, no God of Soho, all of which would be on my list) while the Best Musical category -- as opposed to Best New Musical -- now makes room for a synthetic hybrid like Crazy For You in preference to genuine (if flawed) new work in shows like Ghost, Shrek, Lend Me A Tenor and, yes, even the re-vamped Wizard of Oz at the Palladium -- a show, incidentally, with the dullest and least informative front-of-house display in London.
One sneaky innovation in the Standard long list: the Best Design category includes sound man Adam Cork for his Donmar Warehouse sound tracks for Anna Christie and King Lear. Fair enough. But if "design" now includes sound, what about lighting?
I think the Standard may have created a rod for its own back here, and I'm not sure the discontinuation of the Best Comedy category was a good idea, either; this makes less room for new work on any long list, and it's clear this year that One Man, Two Guvnors, the funniest play on the London stage since Michael Frayn's Noises Off, would be an ideal Best Comedy winner, leaving room for another Best Play.
As Alan Bennett ruefully remarked when he received the Best Comedy award one year, "I may not have written as good a play as the Best Play winner, but at least I wrote one that was funnier." Most writers, I imagine, would settle for that.