Fun, Philosophy And A Murder Mystery
Penny Flood reviews a revival of Tom Stoppard's Jumpers at the Tabard
The Tabard’s production of Jumpers is a celebration of the play’s 40 th anniversary. It was written by Tom Stoppard and was a big sensation when it was launched by the National Theatre in 1972 with Diana Rigg and the late Michael Horden. It was revived at the National Theatre in 1976 and in 2004 received a US Tony Nomination for Best Play Revival, so it is a bit of a coup for the Tabard.
Part farce, part satire, Jumpers is a nicely bonkers spoof murder mystery with podgy acrobatic professors, a touch of raunchy burlesque, a bent copper, a philandering wife, dead goldfish, a tortoise and a hare and an angst ridden professor.
The central character is George (Toby Eddington), a university professor who is preparing the speech he intends to give at the annual university debate on the condition of man, the existence of God and the source and nature of human morality. As he dictates his speech to his amazingly impassive secretary we get to understand him and his own doubts. He’s a nice man but he’s so wrapped up in his philosophy so can’t see what going on right under his nose - which includes a dead acrobat under his wife’s bed and the head of his department in the bed.
There is much humour intertwined in with George’s often rambling philosophical musings, such as a joke about Saint Sebastian, a tortoise and a hare which also involves part of the twisted plot. Eddington is on stage for the whole play, much of it delivering his speech so it is a demanding role.
However he doesn’t possess a comedian’s instinct and timing to pull it off. Too often his delivery comes across as a bad lecture and the funny bits get lost.
The play is held together by a strong cast who generally get the intended laughs. Dotty, George’s outrageous young wife (a former wildly popular singer) is played with panache by the lovely Emily Shaw who flirts her way through in diaphanous nightie and amuses herself with mimes of book and film titles – African Queen is particularly funny. She’s also got a smashing voice which gets full rein at the end. The murder is investigated by the hilarious Inspector Bones (Mark White), infatuated with Dotty, seedy and corruptible. The University Vice Chancellor, Archie, is played with oily smoothness by Malcolm Freeman, all smug self satisfaction. Julie Rose Smith maintains a strong presence with nods and frowns as she has no lines (and also plays a stripper early on). Her significance to the whole story should therefore come as no surprise except, of course, to poor George.
And there’ a nice twist at the end when Crouch the caretaker (Michael McEvoy) come in to tidy up and starts discussing philosophical ideas because he’s been listening to this stuff for years. This, sending up of academic elitism while the ongoing murder mystery goes on around them is brought to hilarious life by the Jumpers, a team of gymnasts from the philosophy department (sociologists are the Acrobats). It is a Jumper (and Head of Philosophy) who is shot dead. Full marks to actors playing the Jumpers – Brendan Murphy, David Jay Douglas, Max Cormac and Alexander Hulme who perform with great comic aplomb.
The production runs until September 30.
Directed by Madeleine Loftin, Designed by Chris Hone,
Starring Toby Eddington, Emily Shaw, Malcolm Freeman,
September 7, 2012