BWW Review: JELLYFISH, National Theatre
Sarah Gordy is a gifted actress (now there's a loaded adjective, as the play points out). She does what only the best of her profession can - holds a house in the palm of her hand, empathy created and shared without a shred of sentimentality. I doubt that I'll see a better performance this year - maybe this decade.
She has the tools to do so, Ben Weatherill's script funny, truthful and poignant in equal measure, without ever sliding into easy manipulation - we never forget that these are "real" people we're watching, more important in this play than most.
Kelly is 27, feisty and forthright and, when she meets Neil on the seafront, that strange alchemical reaction does its job and love blossoms. But Kel's mother, Agnes, sees things differently, her love for Kelly no less valid, no less felt, but directed towards her protection not her potential. She comes between them.
"Is it because I have Down's Syndrome?"
If this is Gordy's play, the supporting cast shine brilliantly as they circle her. Siôn Daniel Young seems too good to be true as Neil, but we find out something in his past that fills out his personality. Young captures Neil's reluctance to go to the places Agnes takes him - but we see his willingness to do so for the sake of his love for Kelly.
Penny Layden's Agnes is no-nonsense Northern, the wounds of her past never needing much scratching to bleed. There are times when you want to jump up on stage and shake her - but walk a mile in her shoes and then tell me she's wrong. Fine acting and wonderful writing.
It might get a little too intense were the triangle not split by Dominic, a tremendous comic turn from Nicky Priest as an Asperger's Syndrome boy who just can't get Kylie out of his head. I won't be alone in wondering what happens to him if we ever get a sequel (and few plays merit one more).
Tim Hoare's direction is so tight and the Dorfman Theatre so perfectly suited to this intimate piece that I cannot recall time passing more swiftly in the stalls, the play whisking us in and out of Skegness seemingly in no time.
But this play, and Sarah Gordy's performance, will stay in my mind for much, much longer. And it'll make me a better person too.
Photo Helen Murray