Sunday, 30 October 2016

Jumpy

Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh
Four stars

“The best we can expect from life now is avoiding the worst,” says Hilary's man-hungry best friend Frances over a bottle of wine early on in April De Angelis' bittersweet evocation of mid-life crises among women who came of age in the 1970s. Then, Hilary and Frances took advantage of the freedoms afforded by a new wave of feminist thinking, went on day trips to Greenham Common and weren't afraid to become independent women on their own terms. In 2009, when the play is set, Hilary is about to turn fifty, her marriage to Mark is cosy to the point of dull and her about to be sixteen year old daughter Tilly is stropping her way through life in postage stamp size skirts and has taken to letting her monosyllabic boyfriend Josh sleep over.

Cora Bissett's revival of De Angelis' West End hit relocates the action to Kelvinside, and has designer Jean Chan pile the stage sky high with domestic detritus that looks like an explosion that has burst out from Hilary's head. As her mother's ongoing meltdown spirals, Tilly's getting of wisdom becomes increasingly monstrous. In a pair of beautifully nuanced performances, Pauline Knowles and Molly Vevers invest mother and daughter with a vulnerability that flares up into an antagonism that reveals them as emotional flipsides of each other.

With each short scene punctuated by assorted Me Generation classics interspersed with grungier fare that points up the gulf between Hilary and Tilly, the first act ends with a wild dream sequence set to a funereal arrangement of Nirvana's terminally bratty Smells Like Teen Spirit. There is more dance too, when a scene-stealing Gail Watson as Frances attempts a jaw-droppingly inappropriate burlesque number.

With both Frances and Josh' father Roland depicted as actors, the script is peppered with theatrical in-jokes throughout a piece that could easily be carved up into several episodes of award-winning TV dramady. Because, while the assorted scenarios of dysfunctional families depicted are first world problems writ large, it is the everyday middle class ordinariness of them that makes De Angelis' play at times so touching. It does this even as it invites us to laugh at the ongoing ridiculousness of a world where growing up only seems to get harder with age.

The Herald, October 31st 2016

ends

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