“I don’t look 50. I don’t act 50. I could get away with … 43?” There’s no pause in the script but Tamsin Greig as 50-year-old Hilary inserts one to fill it with a hilariously legible series of desperate thoughts about what age she can claim/get away with, before nervously alighting on 43. The uproarious laughter that greets April de Angelis’ zesty “Jumpy” is the laughter of acute and sometimes appalled recognition. That’s the hallmark of a delicious juggling act of uproarious humor and real pain.
Given that “Jumpy” lives in the immediately recognizable war zone that is parents vs. teen children, the basic situation is unremarkable. Hilary’s 15-year-old, typically dismissive only child Tilly (nicely abrupt Bel Powley) is, at best, heedless of her and, at worst, downright insulting. Hilary is caught between encouragement and exasperation, her anxiety ratcheted up by Tilly’s schoolfriend who is eight months pregnant.
Sex is in the air but, happily, instead of earnestly ploughing through, say, an even-handed debate on teen pregnancy vs. parental/individual responsibility, de Angelis typically turns the matter into a comic scene in which Hilary and her husband rocket into denial at the sounds of teenage squeals of pleasure coming through the bedroom wall.
Initially, Tilly’s loitering on the doorstep of adulthood is there to accentuate Hilary’s more pressing crisis: being 50. She knows it’s a nightmare but at least she going through with it with her oldest friend, actress Frances (riotous Doon Mackichan) who is single and fiercely dedicated to self-fulfilment. be it a job, a man, or possibly both. as in her eye-widening dummy run — in front of the family — of her leather-clad, whiplashing, “ironic” burlesque act.
The hysteria induced by Frances is in stark opposition to the tension and distress engendered by Hilary’s life which, by the second act, is unravelling. She’s struggling with a dying marriage and the siren song of sex, be it from linen-wearing, smooth-talking Richard Lintern as the newly single father of one of Tilly’s boyfriends or, even more riskily, Cam (sensitive Michael Marcus), who is actually one of Tilly’s boyfriends.
Even when events spiral towards the absurd and the concerns of the play become slightly stretched by over-plotting, de Angelis and helmer Nina Raine keep the dramatic stakes satisfyingly high.
Tensions between Hilary and everyone in her orbit reach breaking point, with deep-seated emotions rising to the surface. And the less well Hilary copes, the better brittle Greig becomes, revealing an almost scary degree of vulnerability without ever tipping into actorly display.
Armed with a first-rate supporting cast, Raine opens out seemingly inconsequential moments beneath the sheen of de Angelis’s snappy, sardonic dialogue. Although not quite all the characters are fully-rounded, Raine makes it entertainingly clear that that no matter how caustic the sometimes near-the-knuckle comedy, the writing shimmers with warmth and compassion.
On paper, with its cast of nine, “Jumpy” didn’t look like a commercial dead cert. But propects for a transfer look as winningly hopeful as the unforced, touching final scene.