Wednesday, 17 October 2012
Loneliness and Jumpy
The trouble with young people is that they have no sense of the past. The trouble with old people is that they have no sense of the present. Discuss. The question April de Angelis unpicks in her bitingly funny new play, Jumpy, is whether these positions, if true, can ever be bridged and if so, how and by what.
In a brilliantly nuanced performance, Tamsin Grieg, plays a fifty year old mother called Hilary. Her middle class life is beginning to come apart at the seams: her job with a literacy support group is about to be axed, she’s experiencing panic attacks on the tube and she’s taking comfort in a glass or three of Chardonnay. On top of this, she is married to an emotionally inarticulate husband and has a sullen, teenage daughter, Tilly, who would not be out of place on The Jeremy Kyle Show.
This mid-life crisis comedy plays for big laughs, but laughs that are never cheap. It achieves this with a compassionate awareness of the generational gaps and psychological fissures that stop us relating to each other as we should. This is writing with real emotional truth and psychological accuracy. When Hilary tries to speak to Tilly in an adult manner, she is constantly interrupted by the ping of another text message on her daughter’s mobile. The mother tries to find some way to connect with her daughter only to be trumped by the teenager’s desire to connect with her “friends” by txt lol omg XXxx. In her marriage, Hilary tries to connect with her passionless husband by reading him Great Expectations as a bedtime story. This fails and Hilary then tries to connect with one of her daughter’s buff boyfriends. This also fails because Hilary cannot play the cougar and the toy boy jock has an emotional range that runs from A to B. Hilary wants to talk about feminism and her time at Greenham Common. The jock, if he talks at all, probably wants to talk about Gran Turismo 5 and his latest milf conquest.
In Paradise Lost, John Milton observed that “Loneliness is the first thing which God’s eye named, not good.” Part of our fallen natures is that we now live with the existential knowledge of loneliness: we’re born alone, we live alone and we die alone. Only love and friendship provide us with those invisible paths, aboriginal songlines, by which we make our way back to Paradise. We retrieve from our ancient, collective memory the remembrance of a time when our relationships were harmonious, when we did connect and love. The ache in our beings is the ache for Paradise. For the believer, this is the ache for God.
The characters in Jumpy live with the poverty of loneliness and the feeling of being unloved. Their sad, fumbling, comic attempts to combat their loneliness are deeply moving because they resonate with what we know to be true about ourselves. We know that loneliness and vulnerability in our beings, but we also know the truth that love and being loved are essential to any understanding of what it is to be a person. This truth does not take away the knowledge of loneliness, but it puts it in its proper place and fills it with meaning.
Jumpy has neither a Pollyanna or pessimistic view of what it means to be human. In the play, the teenage mother who loves her baby instead of aborting it, the wife who returns to the marital bed and finds consolation in the affections of her husband, the teenage daughter who cannot imagine living without her mum, the soft toy that connects us to our more innocent, less cynical selves provide the ways, De Angelis suggests, that we regain some foothold in Paradise. The final message of Jumpy is that love alone has the power to bridge the gaps. In the tragicomedy of life, we can love and be loved. Paradise is not competely lost to us.