Saturday, 21 November 2009

Jump! - Live Theatre, Newcastle upon Tyne

Writer: Lisa McGee
Director: Max Roberts
Reviewer: Ian Cain

The English premiere of ‘Jump!’ – it has previously been performed in Northern Ireland and New York – is billed as ‘a fast-paced dark comedy . . . played out like a Tarantino movie.’The action takes place during New Year’s Eve on Tyneside. Ross (Harry Hepple) and Johnny (James Baxter), a pair of small-time crooks and novice hit-men meet for a pint as they prepare for a one-off contract killing to settle a gambling debt that they are unable to pay back.
Meanwhile, good-time girls Marie (Vicky Elliott), Dara (Laura Norton) and Hannah (Bronagh Taggart) are lining the drinks up, ready to celebrate a big night out on the town. And, on the High Level Bridge, two strangers, Pearce (Neil Grainger) and Greta (Frances McNamee), who are both intent on committing suicide, encounter each other and consider their fates.

As the plot moves along, we find out that the lives of these seven desperate characters are intertwined through a series of coincidental moments and that, during the course of the evening, each of their lives will be changed forever. The writing is fast-paced and the dialogue punchy, although there’s a considerable amount of unnecessary bad language.

With the crème-de-la-crème of talented young North-east actors taking on the roles, the performances – as you would expect – are of a high standard. Elliott, Norton and Taggart rub along wonderfully as they bicker, bitch and backbite, whilst Grainger and McNamee both give taut and edgy performances as they teeter on the ledge of the bridge. The least convincing performances came from Baxter and Hepple, who both seem to try to manufacture an onstage chemistry that didn’t occur organically.

Isla Shaw is to be commended for her set design, particularly the eerily realistic portion of the High Level Bridge that looms over the rest of the stage. The two-tier set dominates the intimate main theatre, providing the audience with an increased sense of involvement. James Whiteside’s lighting design and Martin Hodgson’s sound design reinforce this, too.

There are some gaffes in the script with relation to geography that should have been picked up during the rehearsal process. Anyone from Newcastle or the surrounding area will confirm that when you cross the High Level Bridge, from whichever direction, you do not end up in Byker.

Although ‘Jump!’ is not the best thing that I have seen at Live Theatre – it follows productions including ‘The Pitmen Painters’, ‘Looking For Buddy’, ‘Me & Cilla’ and ‘You Couldn’t Make It Up’ – it is, nevertheless, a piece that contains some nice moments of black humour, numerous twists, and some lovely one-liners. That said, the success of the play on press night, I felt, owed more to the overall quality of the performances than it did to the brilliance of the writing.

‘Jump’ runs until Sat 5th Dec
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