Jellyfish at the Bush Theatre
The British seaside is depicted in art and theatre as a sometimes melancholy, sometimes wondrous place. Like Jellyfish itself, it has built its appeal on delights that have a simplicity to them: chips, the chiming arcade slots, the calls of seagulls. Ben Weatherill’s play, nonetheless, emerges as a very different kind of Venus from the waters of the North Sea.
This new production, the stormy romance of Kelly and Neil, finds itself on the rocks, with Kelly’s mother Agnes refusing to accept their relationship; her daughter has Down’s Syndrome, her boyfriend doesn’t. But as she must learn for herself, it is the able-bodied characters in this story that are sometimes the most unreasonable. In an environment that likes to exoticise the love-lives of people with disabilities, labelling them “undateable” subjects of reality TV shows, this drama is honest and matter-of-fact, cutting close to the bone on questions of sexuality, consent and parenthood.
This is absolutely a serious piece of theatre, but it boasts a brilliant cast who are able to make the most of Weatherill’s careful script. Sarah Gordy as Kelly is strong and sassy, acting with tremendous candour and indignation. But she can also raise massive laughs. Nicky Priest deserves special mention for his utterly dry yet sensitive comic performance as Dominic. He is an excellent counterweight to heavy, dark scenes: always charming, ready to make the next ironic observation to cut through the tensions elsewhere on stage.
This balance is a testament to the writing, of course, but also to director Tim Hoare’s clear understanding of the seaside’s magic. The Studio space at the Bush Theatre is petite, but some smart set design has gone into fashioning a whole world out of it. Sand and an oblique, inclined pier seem like very little, but they do more than enough to signify the varied landscape in Kelly and Neil’s Skegness.
This production follows a relationship that comes across as real and loving despite the difficulties to which it is exposed. One can only hope that it touches as many people as possible during its season at the Bush and turns the tide on the way we talk about disability and love.
Photo: Samuel Taylor
Jellyfish is at the Bush Theatre from 4th July until 21st July 2018. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.