Tamsin Greig revisits mid-life meltdown in Jumpy

Tamsin Greig, Doon Mackichan and Bel Powley in Jumpy.

As she returns to the West End stage, actress Tamsin Greig explains why she relished the chance to revisit the role of a mother having a mid-life crisis in April de Angelis's comedy Jumpy.

When Jumpy opened at the Royal Court last autumn it caused parents in the audience to gasp with recognition.

April de Angelis's comedy, which has now transferred to the Duke of York's theatre, is a laugh-out loud, yet often moving, look at mother-daughter relationships.

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It's like the dirty waters have been stirred up. ”

End Quote Tamsin Greig on audience reaction in Jumpy

Navigating the blurred line between comedy and drama is Tamsin Greig, who reprises her role as Hilary, an anxious 50-year-old middle-class literacy teacher, and ex-Greenham Common woman, with a teenage daughter going off the rails.

It's the first time Greig has revisited a stage role. "You put a play on in four weeks and you do a run of five weeks - that's quite a short journey in the scheme of things," she says when we talk after Jumpy's opening night on Tuesday.

"It was really invigorating to navigate deeper into those intimate relationships. It's a bit like tidying up your room so it looks fantastic, and then looking under the bed and thinking - 'oh there is all that I never sorted'."

Does she still detect those gasps of parental recognition? "Every night I'm amazed because the audience responds in different ways - you can hear when something touches a nerve or makes people uncomfortable. It's like the dirty waters have been stirred up."

 Tamsin Greig (Hilary), Bel Powley (Tilly). Credit - Robert Workman Hilary (Tamsin Greig) and Tilly (Bel Powley) attempt to bond in Jumpy

While Hilary worries about her stroppy daughter Tilly, played by Bel Powley, her marriage to her shop-owner husband Mark (Ewan Stewart) has gone stale, and her best friend Frances (Doon Mackichan) has taken up burlesque dancing to maintain her sexual allure.

Greig, herself a mother of three, admits she was drawn to the play because of Hilary's ordinariness.

"It's about a woman who hasn't changed the world. She's a very ordinary woman who wants people to read and she's trying to bring up one child - which in the grand scheme of things are negligible...

"All she's trying to do is let her daughter go. I love the ordinariness of that and yet the deeply profound difficulty of it. Of bringing someone into the world and letting them go. I was really excited by that."

Reviews of Jumpy's West End transfer are unanimous in their praise for Greig.

"Greig excels at nervy vulnerability, but also at coruscating wit," says the Evening Standard.

In a five-star review, The Telegraph's Dominic Cavendish asserts that Greig "joins the forefront of our finest stage actresses, finding understated hilarity and pathos in the spectacle of a wife and mum on the verge of a breakdown."

'Waiting to hear'

Born in Kent in 1966, Greig studied drama at the University of Birmingham. After a first job at the Family Planning Association she then worked at the Midland Art Centre's Children's Theatre. She was cast as Debbie Aldridge on BBC Radio 4's The Archers in 1991.

Greig's theatre credits include The Little Dog Laughed in the West End, for which she was nominated for an Olivier Award, and Gethsemane at the National Theatre.

She won an Olivier and a Critics' Circle award in 2007 for her role as Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing at the RSC.

She recently appeared in the film Tamara Drewe, and her TV credits include Episodes, Friday Night Dinner, Black Books and Green Wing.

Greig says she is "waiting to hear" whether there will be a third series of Episodes, in which she and Stephen Mangan star as screenwriters making it in America with a sitcom starring Matt LeBlanc, of Friends fame.

Is she attracted to the idea of a career in Hollywood?

Doon Mackichan and  Tamsin Greig (Hilary) in Jumpy   (Picture: Robert Workman) Doon Mackichan (left) plays Hilary's sex-starved friend Frances in Jumpy

"I always used to say never and I'm learning to try to never say never," she laughs. "I always said I wouldn't go away to film, but I went to LA to do one week's shooting for Episodes - a whole week! I may well surprise myself."

Jumpy, which boasts several strong female roles across two generations, has come along amid recent headlines about the lack of parts for older actresses.

Does Greig have any concerns for her future career? "A lot of people are saying that you're entering the hinterland, and mercifully I haven't experienced that, though it may be round the corner.

"When you have people like April de Angelis writing this sort of material, and where there are so many more women in public life who are being given a voice, I don't see why things shouldn't be different."

"It may well happen," she adds with a mischievous look, "but then that would be good because I can do some tidying at home."

Jumpy is at the Duke of York's Theatre until 3 November.

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