Review: KERRY JACKSON, National Theatre

A state-of-the nation-play masquerading as a sitcom

By: Dec. 08, 2022
Review: KERRY JACKSON, National Theatre
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Review: KERRY JACKSON, National Theatre

A Thatcherite, a Champagne Socialist, and a Gen Z snowflake walk into a bar. There's a joke in there somewhere but you'll be hard pressed to find it. That's not because Kerry Jackson isn't funny. It's because despite being labelled a comedy the April De Angelis' new play is actually a state-of-the-nation play in disguise.

It begins by echoing a gaggle of sitcom tropes. The play takes place half in Jackson's restaurant, a tacky tapas bar, and half in a family kitchen, both familiar locations for sitcom aficionados. The loudmouthed Jackson herself, played by a buoyant Fay Ripley, is reminiscent of the absent-minded Pamela from Gavin and Stacy even down to the Essex accent. She is self consciously vulgar but always well intentioned. Beneath the gobby bravado she is a self-made pragmatist unsure of her place in a world that doesn't reward assiduous individualism as it did in the eighties.

Her tapas bar becomes a battleground for class conflict. In one corner it is recently widowed Stephen, an upper middle class philosophy teacher, and his insecure daughter Alice. They are quick to outdo each other's wokeness and profess smug left-wing jargon despite living in a house that is basically a bourgeois Where's Wally? with a SMEG fridge, a Daunt Bookshop tote bag, and a framed poster of Swan Lake from the Royal Opera House. In the other corner its Kerry, her gauche outfits, and her pragmatism.

Jackson's outlook is pushed and prodded by De Angelis. It's a bit like a thought experiment. What happens when she is confronted by homeless drug addict Will? The answer: her individualism descends quickly into its ugly egocentrism.

The play's moral compass doesn't point in one direction for too long. Everyone is eventually rinsed seemingly as a consequence of being stereotypes of themselves; the ensemble of characters quickly become trite placeholders for segments of society. What ideas they represent speaks louder than the characters themselves, often to the point of incredulity within the context of the story. The comedy slinks away leaving something reflective but ultimately unsure of itself.

Thankfully there are enough strong performances across the board to keep Indhu Rubasingham's production afloat. Michael Gould's Stephen balances deftly single-dad charm with wistful desperation and navel gazing arrogance. Kitty Hawthorne captures a palpable sense of grief as Alice, despite her character's cloyingly parochial outlook.

With the dust from Arts Council Funding cuts still settling, Kerry Jackson's discussions about snobbery couldn't be more appropriate. With traditionally "elite" artforms being the hardest hit by budget cuts, questions about class and snootiness in post-Brexit Britian are ripe for examination. But without a concrete grip on its own perspective, Kerry Jackson swings and misses.

Kerry Jackson plays at The National Theatre until January 28 2023

Photo Credit: Marc Brenner

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