There are moments in bad plays and operas where characters do all the things they’re supposed to, like fall in love and stab each other, without any good reason. Wagner called them “effects without causes.” Take note, playwright April de Angelis.
De Angelis’s comedy “Jumpy” is playing at the Duke of York’s Theatre in London. It’s the story of Hilary (Tamsin Greig), a fifty-something left-liberal mother who has to cope with a stroppy teenage daughter and a crumbling marriage.
Tilly, the daughter, gets pregnant. She goes missing for a while. She argues with her overprotective mother.
Meanwhile Hilary has a fling with a preposterously vain actor called Roland and worries about the direction of feminism. She drinks a bit too much. Events trundle along one after the other without structure or cumulative power.
Near the end of Act 1, Hilary’s loud middle-aged friend Frances tries a musical burlesque routine during an otherwise sedate family holiday. Her leather catsuit, feathers and nipple-tassels look out of place on a chilly English beach and she gets all the moves wrong. The inappropriateness is funny, you see.
Maybe the routine actualizes the debate about female empowerment through sexualized behavior. Maybe. More likely the author read that comedies should have a moment of slapstick, so she dutifully provides one. No matter that it’s dramatically unrooted and subsequently unexploited. It’s an effect: who needs a cause?
Later Tilly finds a gun. Chekhov, who knew a thing or two about cause and effect, famously remarked on the dangerous pitfalls of including guns in plays.
Tilly fires the gun accidentally. No-one gets hurt. The gun is never mentioned again. All over in five minutes. Guns are the sort of thing that happen in other plays to generate a bit of conflict, so we get one here too.
As an effect, it’s not very effective.
The characterization is mostly one-note. The men are either vain, uncommunicative, or callow. Perhaps it’s not surprising that the acting relies on bold colors rather than shades.
Greig, who’s on stage almost all the time, exploits a range of frowns and double-takes which are just about exhausted by the end. Bel Powley plays the obstreperous 15-year-old Tilly more like a moody 12-year-old who sighs, tuts and flumps into chairs.
Doon Mackichan tries hard with the role of Frances, and still doesn’t find much depth or roundedness to flesh her out.
Nina Raine’s production takes place in a minimalist gray living room, which occasionally slides apart to reveal a bedroom or a view of the sea (sets Lizzie Clachan).
One razor-sharp line gives the piece a quick lift. “Barbie? She’s an Aryan produced by 11,000 women in Guangdong province. Go figure!” The rest needs a bit more work.
There’s much more fun to be had in an enjoyable production from Opera North of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical “Carousel” at the Barbican.
Director Jo Davies keeps the action of the first part of the story, about the dreamy Julie Jordan falling in love with a violent fairground barker called Billy, in its original setting of 1915.
The merry-go-round of the title is created on a stage revolve using moveable poles strung with lights (sets Anthony Ward). It appears in a blink and dissolves again just as quickly: a beautiful touch.
Davies provides another neat twist by setting the second part of the story, which takes place 15 years later in heaven, in a celestial version of a Hollywood film lot. The otherworldly nature of the action is beautifully captured by the 1930s dream-factory setting.
It’s so good it almost makes the cloying homespun sentimentality of the final scenes bearable. Almost.
The singing is excellent, just as one would hope from an opera company production. Katherine Manley (Julie) has a fresh limpid voice with superb control, and Sarah Tynan (as Julie’s friend Carrie) uses her fluttery soubrette sound charmingly.
Michael Todd Simpson is a fine Billy, and conductor James Holmes keeps things fluid. It’s great to see that Rodgers’s sophisticated score holds its own in the operatic setting.
If the performers aren’t quite as good at acting as singing, they’re still a creditable bunch. All in all, it’s worth taking the ride on this attraction.
“Jumpy” is at the Duke of York’s Theatre. Information: http://www.atgtickets.com/shows/jumpy/duke-of-yorks or +44-844-871-7615.
“Carousel” is at the Barbican through September 15. Information: http://www.barbican.org.uk or +44-20-7638-8891.
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Muse highlights include Zinta Lundborg’s New York weekend and Jeremy Gerard on U.S. theater.
(Warwick Thompson is a critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)