The following review is from the run at the Lyttelton Theatre
Tom Stoppard's Jumpers is a delightful play. A hybrid theatrical piece that places philosophical abstractions about God, Truth and Goodness within an anarchic comical setting of murder, adultery, gymnastics, moon landings, fallen musical stars, academic lectures, hares and tortoises.
George is a philosopher who believes in God and Goodness as absolute values, though why they should exist and why their values should be absolute he struggles to rationalise. His logical-positivist colleagues are all of a far more pragmatic frame of mind considering such questions to be nonsensical. It is the wrangle between these two positions that sets the background for Stoppard’s chaotic play.
The action begins with George’s wife Dorothy throwing a party to celebrate the electoral victory of the radical liberals. George’s colleagues are celebrating with her, whilst he is in another room making notes for his coming debate with the chair of Logic, Professor McFee. However, the world is a confused and illogical place that stubbornly refuses to conform to any particular school of philosophy, and so this scene is not as straightforward as would first appear!
Dorothy cannot remember the words to her beloved song “Fly me to the moon” and is on the verge of a nervous breakdown due to life losing its enchantment. How can the moon have any mystery now that man can land upon it, she muses? The professors, apart from George, are also aerobics that are able to construct and deconstruct gymnastic pyramids - a fitting metaphor for their philosophical speculations - whilst taking part in one such display Professor McFee is shot dead. Meanwhile George is preparing his lecture notes by shooting arrows and searching for hares to explain Zeno’s Paradoxes.
Simon Russell Beale is superb as the cuckold George; he creates the perfect mixture of earnestness and diffidence and one immediately warms to this kind, but blundering professor. His determination to defend goodness and morality, his pathos at life’s mishaps and his abhorrence of an amoral encroaching pragmatism produces a wonderfully charismatic figure.
Essie Davis is beautiful and enigmatic as Dorothy, the disconsolate ex musical star: she has a wonderful singing voice, an alluring manner and a desperate neediness which makes Dorothy’s demands for attention more then credible. John Rogan as Crouch, the caretaker with philosophical inclinations, is amiably cheerful and disarming. Jonathan Hyde also gives a polished performance as Archie, the corrupt and slick vice-chancellor who is always making his way into Dorothy’s bedroom and niftily offering university department chairs as bribes.
Jumpers is a great comical farce that relies just as much upon philosophical astuteness for its humour as it does upon improbable situations. As well as some hilarious knocks at the more dogmatic schools of philosophy it contains some wonderful erudite humour such as when Archie says that the murder of Professor McFee is no big thing because “It is not as if the alternative was immortality”. Or again when asked why the professor committed suicide inside a plastic bag Archie responds, “He was always tidy”.
David Leveaux’s production whilst being hilarious also captures the pathos of George and Dorothy’s dysfunctional marriage. Towards the end of the play Archie says, “Don’t despair, all laughter is fun and even some tears are joyful”. A quote, which captures the spirit of this deliciously insightful comedy!
Production photo by Catherine Ashmore
What other critics had to say.....
ROBERT HANKS for THE INDEPENDENT says, "It is still a marvellous display of Stoppard's verbal ingenuity, with some beautifully contrived cross-purposes and neat gags." MICHAEL BILLINGTON for THE GUARDIAN says, "One emerges having had a good time." BENEDICT NIGHTINGALE for THE TIMES says, "Beale triumphantly proves Jumpers worth reviving." NICHOLAS DE JONGH for THE EVENING STANDARD says, "Leveaux's spectacular production artfully unites Stoppard's contrary elements into a witty, though verbosely over-extended whole."
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