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Kerry Jackson – National Theatre, London

Reviewer: Scott Matthewman

Writer: April De Angelis

Director: Indu Rubasingham

Kerry Jackson, the titular antihero of April De Angelis’s new work for the National Theatre, is many things: a brash, Essex-born, Tory-voting single woman who’s put everything she has into a new Tapas restaurant in Walthamstow. She can be abrasive and rude until you get to know her – after that, she’s abrasive, rude and just about forgivable.

What she is not is particularly complex or original. This can also be said of Kerry Jackson the play, a work which aims to get under the skin of classism, sexism and gentrification, but ends up merely skimming the surface.

De Angelis populates Kerry’s world with a number of stock characters, most egregiously Michael Gould’s newly widowed liberal lefty teacher, Stephen, with whom a cultural and societal locking of horns blossoms into something approaching romance.

The political differences between Stephen and Kerry manifest themselves in several ways, not least their radically opposite ways of dealing with Will (Michael Fox), a local homeless man who Kerry takes up against, partly because he uses the alley behind her restaurant as an emergency toilet but mostly because she perceives him as bringing down the tone of the area in a way that would affect her trade.

Some initial promise to the character of Will – known in the area as “The Reader”, because he’s always seen with a book – never fully escapes caricature, although a scene in which his political alignment seems more attuned to Kerry’s view of the world than Stephen’s proves an entertaining diversion. Ultimately, though, just as Stephen’s treatment of Will is well-meaning but heartless, so is De Angelis’.

The remaining characters don’t come off much better. Stephen’s daughter, Alice (Kitty Hawthorne), is either super-intelligent or petulantly immature, depending on the nature of an individual scene, while Gavin Spokes’s Warren, another putative suitor for Kerry, turns up at random intervals with grand monetary gestures – an offer to replace her broken industrial fridge, or tickets for a foreign holiday – despite only meeting her once before. There’s a frustrating lack of exploration of what his motivations are, along with a lack of interest in the same by Kerry, which seems out of character.

The most interesting character is Madeline Appiah’s chef, Athena, struggling to stay in the country because her academic father never sorted out her leave-to-remain when she was a child. Athena constantly shows the most maturity and level-headedness, so in true sitcom form, she is sidelined more than the character, or Appiah’s performance, deserves.

And sitcom is the word here. Ripley’s performance is broad and comic with notes of precision, making us like the larger-than-life Kerry despite, and perhaps because of, her many flaws. But to fully serve such a character, the script needs to be razor-sharp. Instead, it’s too unsubtle in places and too sketchy in others – the opening scene involves Kerry and Athena telling each other how they met, for example, in ways that display the theatrical mechanics of the scene a bit too clearly.

For all that, it remains a solidly funny play, even when matters turn more serious in the work’s second act. But it also feels slightly too underdeveloped to deserve the Dorfman stage. When our national theatre takes on social class and neighbourhood gentrification, one would hope it could be done with a bit more, well, class.

Continues until 28 January 2023

The Reviews Hub Score

Solidly funny

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The Reviews Hub - London

The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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