Hard to believe, but even the Whingers were young once.
Then we took our eyes off the road and somehow time sneaked up from behind, overtaking recklessly, driving off the highway of life and leaving us temporarily stranded in the lay-by of middle age. Happily we are fully equipped with spare tyres to enable our journeys to continue.
Hilary (Tamsin Greig) is having a mid-life crisis. She’s 50 and suffering panic attacks; presumably the Jumpy of the title (another titular reference is revealed at the end). Her job’s in danger and her marriage to a relentlessly dull husband Mark (Ewan Stewart) has become little more than friendship, the aridness of her partnership only hydrated by frequent glasses of wine. Could this be the reason for the Whingers’ drinking too?
Her relationship with teenage daughter Tilly (Bel Powley) is at best fractious. Tilly is sleeping around. In the dark ages of our teenage years she’d have been called ‘a scrubber’- whatever happened to that term of abuse? She drinks too, dresses inappropriately (or appropriately if you’re a teen, we suppose), goes out clubbing and seems, well, rather common, especially given that her mother is the rather refined Greig. Her attitude is surly, attention seeking and thoroughly unloveable. Put her on X Factor!
She also has a tendency to overdo the screeching and screaming, in fact she’s so goddamn awful it’s no wonder her mother worries something terrible will happen to her when she goes out; there must be people queueing up to do for her. The Whingers would be first in line. But she’s probably safer out than in. Playwright April De Angelis presents a very strong argument for filicide.
To us it played as caricature. Are teenagers really this hideous? We have no idea. But if women are from Venus and men are from Mars then children must come from Uranus (which, as a small child, is where Phil thought they emerged from until he found out the equally shocking truth about the ‘front bottom’).
Greig is excellent but Jumpy sometimes shoehorn situations in for easy laughs. Her friend Frances (Doon Mackichan) performs a burlesque routine for very little reason. The Whingers sat there glumly while the audience guffawed with laughter. The scene where Greig is instructed in the art herself is much funnier though the French maid’s outfit she wears is a sitcom device too far. And why is a gun awkwardly introduced into an overwrought Act 2 scene?
There’s echoes of Mike Leigh’s Grief, shaded with Carla Lane’s Butterflies and when Tilly’s parents and her boyfriend Josh’s parents get together a whiff of God of Carnage. Richard Lintern convinces as Josh’s father, an actor who believes himself unable to turn off his charm but Sarah Woodward as Josh’s mother is criminally underused.
We weren’t even certain Woodward was in Act 1. Jumpy entered our collective consciousness through various hearty recommendations and by the time we came to book was nearly sold out. This forced us to take restricted view seats in the upper reaches of the Royal Court. But we do not complain, you will not find the Whingers consulting the Trade Description Act. We can attest that the view from our seats was indeed admirably restricted.
Most of the audience seemed to be having a whale of a time and whilst Phil was amused by some of this and occasionally laughed out loud, Andrew declared himself “bored”. But even Phil, from his aerial perch, on viewing a sun lounger on stage again, found time to assess this new theatrical trend and formed a mental list of their recent appearances on stage (Much Ado About Nothing, Terrible Advice, Cool Hand Luke).
At 2 hours 40 minutes it’s overlong and though director Nina Raine squeezes some poignancy and hope from the resolve some of the comedy is horribly overdone; if this play were toast you’d need to scrape it furiously over the kitchen sink.
Ah well, comedy is subjective. We’ve actually met a handful of people who didn’t find One Man, Two Guvnors remotely funny. Imagine that.