Review - Jellyfish at the National Theatre
The best plays are those that shift your perspective and allow you to consider the world with an entirely different perspective. On the face of it, Jellyfish is a regular love story about an extra-ordinary couple.
Neil and Kelly met at a Skeggy arcade, and fell in love eating chips on the seafront. They see each other behind parents’ backs, making the most of a free house when mum’s at work. What sets Ben Weatherill’s play apart is that it tackles unchartered territory: it’s about love with Down’s Syndrome and disability.
Kelly, played by the funny, charismatic actor Sarah Gordy for whom the play was written for, has Down’s and has been entirely dependent on her mum. But now she’s 27, she’s met a boy and she wants him to take her virginity.
That’s innocent enough, surely everyone deserves that? But Kelly’s mother Agnes is furious; Kelly can have a relationship, but with someone else who is disabled. Otherwise, her daughter is being exploited.
There are some incredibly poignant lines as the story develops like any classic romcom. Agnes is adamant any relationship Kelly has must be with someone also disabled, to which Kelly replies “you always taught me I was just like anybody else.” These are the lines we use to make ourselves feel like we’re being a decent person, but are so difficult to practise.
It’s also hilarious. Gordy flips between being frustrated to funny and flirty. But I found myself getting excited every time Nicky Priest strolled on stage as Dominic, a Eurovision-fanatic Kylie-loving boy with Asperger’s that Agnes tries to set up with Kelly to form an ‘acceptable relationship. His straight delivery and timing of his one-liners bring the house down.
Siôn Daniel Young gives a heartfelt performance as a man who is simply going with his heart. He sees through Kelly’s disability completely, but in doing so, he is doing her a disservice by not acknowledging the complete package. As Agnes, Penny Layden is completely torn as the mother who wants the best for her daughter, without compromising her happiness.
There’s nothing fancy to Tim Hoare’s steady, well-paced production, and that makes Weatherill’s play feel all the more real.
Photo credit: Helen Murray