April De Angelis is a fine playwright who’s owed us a really good new play for some time. Despite a knockout performance by Tamsin Greig as her fifty year-old, crisis-ridden heroine, Hilary, I’m a bit jittery about declaring Jumpy that play.
Yet another “frank and funny family drama” feels like something belonging in the upstairs studio, with lots of raucous girl chat about sex and parenting seemingly culled from Loose Women on lunchtime television and a worn-out street demotic that has a teenage mum declaring, “If someone ate Dayne, I’d go mental.”
There’s no epic or metaphorical dimension that makes a “Royal Court” play feel special on the main stage; instead, we have a boulevard comedy (with a much weaker second act) very much conceived as a feminist riposte, perhaps, to Simon Gray’s self-flagellating menopausal emotional misfits Ben Butley and Simon Hench.
Greig’s Hilary is similarly besieged on all sides. Her job at the educational ready support unit is going down the pan. Her marriage to Ewan Stewart’s stolid small businessman (going into blinds with his eyes open) has settled into dull habit. And she’s at war with her teenaged micro-skirted daughter, Tilly (brilliant Bel Powley), who is foul-mouthed, insolent, abusive, stupid and thoughtless.
Tilly’s going out with taciturn Josh (James Musgrave) whose parents (Richard Lintern as a creepy, adulterous actor, Sarah Woodward as a frosty banker) come round to pow-wow a strategy - Tilly wants the youngsters to sleep together only under her roof - while Hilary’s actress friend, Frances (the explicitly raunchy Doon Makichan), counsels more sex and even more booze; that is, for Hilary.
In Nina Raine’s attentive and well organised production, the mother and daughter stand-off is like an over-italicised version of what’s going on in Mike Leigh’s Grief at the National. In despair and isolation, Greig’s Hilary declares that there’s more to life without any idea of what that might be; this rare ability to undermine her own thoughts, and turn on a sixpence, emotionally, in one phrase or sentence, make the performance utterly absorbing.
In a central scene, Hilary reaches back to her period of political engagement during the Greenham Common protest while Tilly keeps up her texting and viciously repels this important demand on her attention with, “Don’t go all 'psycho' on me.” Not for the first or last time in the evening you want to get up on the stage and bang everyone’s heads together.
Lizzie Clachan’s sleek grey design of a Walthamstow household transforms cleverly into a Norfolk weekend coastal retreat where Frances, somewhat gratuitously, tries out her provocative new burlesque routine and seeks feedback when her balloon bursts.
Hilary has a second act fling with an older boy (well, he’s a university student, attractively played by Michael Marcus) which bumps us along to a nearly happy conciliatory ending which I liked; but why does the final bedroom scene in Walthamstow suddenly happen by the sea? It seems a bit late to make poetry of such a literal-minded, deliberately low-level and brutish comedy.