At least Jumpy is a play about 50-something women who have sex. There’s not that much written about the middle-aged years when women discover a new type of social invisibility, and a time when female actors can disappear until they can play crones and clowns.
Written by UK writer April De Angelis, the MTC season opener is as Aussie as Prince Phillip’s knighthood. It begins with Hilary (Jane Turner) despairing as her 15-year-old daughter, Tilly (Brenna Harding), stomps up the stairs of their very lovely house. Hilary knows she’s still a feminist but is frustrated because 50 seems to offer more loss than gain. She drinks wine and discusses it all with bff Frances (Marina Prior) – who’s still husband looking, still wearing bikinis and now heading to burlesque classes – but there’s not so much discussion with husband, Mark (David Tredinnick), as her bedtime offering is reading Great Expectations to him. Meanwhile Tilly and her friends are doing it like teenagers, with the expected consequence.
With behaviour and observations as complex and photo-shopped as a Women’s Weekly (without the bonus of a recipe to try), I waited for the moment when the veneer of expected was torn away to show the real people and the reality of feeling 30 while seeing an old stranger in the mirror.
I don’t like seeing dull middle aged woman on a stage because it scares me that THAT’s what I look like to the world. I known people who slip easily into the expected, but I don’t know anyone who isn’t self aware enough to know if they are living a beige-nude-coloured one-piece bathing costume cliche.
There’s plenty of jumping about in the plot but most is so obvious that it may as well not happen. Daughter didn’t use birth control; daughter shags older boy, mum feeling unsexy; separated couples go away together. The spoilers are built in.
None of which is made any more compelling on the stage. The early awkward accents – why? – and conscious blocking relaxed, but the relationships – the frustration, passion and despair – in the subtext of the script were lost in the empty space of the stage. Director Pamela Rabe is an actor who makes empty space and subtext scream louder than the words spoken; as a director, she gets the script on the stage and seems to miss the exploration of what those words are really trying to say.
Which leaves us theatre that’s as feisty as an old cat asleep in the sun. But regardless of what grumpy critics say, it will also sell well because of it’s well-known cast, Marina’s burlesque dance and the easy jokes about teenagers and their parents. And it’s the box office from these shows that helps the MTC commission new works. Perhaps the price of every MTC independent NEON show is a Jumpy?