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Janet Turner, Brenna Harding and Tariro Mavondo. All images: Brett Boardman.

THEATRE: 1 APRIL 2015

By GERALDINE WORTHINGTON

Jumpy, by April de Angelis | Directed by Pamela Rabe

Sydney Theatre Company & Melbourne Theatre Company | Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House | Until 16 May

April de Angelis is a prolific contemporary English playwright whose work often focuses on the female experience. In Jumpy the focus is certainly centred on the female — in particular the modern mother/daughter relationship. Using a sitcom formula and starring Janet Turner of Kath and Kim fame, the focus is on Hilary, a woman who is 50, and feeling it!

Hilary is married to Mark (David Tredinnick) and together they are parents of a 15-year-old daughter, Tilly (Brenna Harding), who is, to put it politely, extremely hard work. Tilly is still at school but studying is not her priority. Her boyfriend Josh (Laurence Boxhall) is. And it is this relationship that brings Hilary into a gender-inequality conflict with his parents (John Lloyd Fillingham and Caroline Brazier).

Brazier, from Rake, is impressively and dramatically sharp in a relatively minor role as Josh’s mother, as is Brenna Harding in her debut theatrical role. Harding, also seen on TV in Puberty Blues, is imposing, as she stomps around the stage, dominating the space physically and emotionally. It is virtually impossible for any parent to summon up any empathy towards her, but she is totally convincing in her role as a symbol of intergenerational struggle.

There are numerous characters that people this drama and they are all superbly cast — Hilary’s bestie, Frances (Marina Prior), Lyndsey, Tilly’s friend who embraces motherhood at 15 (Tariro Movando) and Cam (Dylan Watson), who momentarily plays the role of Hilary’s toy boy. They are mostly peripheral to the story line and thinly outlined by the writer, but Pamela Rabe in the director’s chair works hard and elicits authentic performances.

 There is, underlying all this frenetic frivolity, a strong sense of serious concerns — compromise, the consequences of under-age sex, urban violence, ageing, effective parenting and the role of modern feminism, just to name a few. And the writing attempts to comment on all aspects. But when all is said and done, a comment is all there is, and Pamela Rabe should be forgiven if she cannot give dramatic force to all of them.

There are many lol moments and Michael Hankin’s stage design provides many of them, courtesy of the ease and speed of transition of the set, which is elegant and suggestive of expensive and functional comfort.

At its core this is a feminist drama that attempts much and has a great deal to say, and, whatever its strengths and weaknesses, it is pretty much perfect in all performance and production values.

Janet Turner.

John Lloyd Fillingham and Janet Turner.