Lloyd Evans Lloyd Evans

Clever and witty state-of-the-nation play: Kerry Jackson, at the Dorfman Theatre, reviewed

Plus: at the Ambassadors Theatre a popular new play full of surreal, off-beat flourishes

Fay Ripley (Kerry) and Madeline Appiah (Athena) in Kerry Jackson at the National Theatre. Credit: Marc Brenner

The National’s new comedy by April De Angelis is a clever and amusing attempt to deliver that most elusive artefact, the state-of-the-nation play. It’s easy to pan this production because the plot lacks surprises and the script is overly indebted to Abigail’s Party. The two lead characters are formulaic creations who reflect political polarities: left vs right, Remain against Leave. Kerry Jackson is a stroppy Essex blonde who loves Thatcher, despises foreigners and supports Brexit. She takes a shine to an overeducated wine snob, Stephen, who rides a bike and lectures in philosophy.

Kerry’s new bistro in Walthamstow needs customers and she begs Stephen to post a favourable review in the local free sheet. In return she agrees to hire his mopey daughter as a waitress. Romance blossoms and the Kerry/Stephen affair transcends the boundaries of class and political allegiance. Other characters drift in and out. There’s an incontinent tramp who likes high-brow literature and a corpulent ex-copper who fancies his chances with Kerry.

The dialogue is witty, the characters are sympathetic (despite being stereotypical), and Fay Ripley plays Kerry with an inviting energy. It’s rare to find a play at the National that draws hoots of laughter from the crowd. An extra delight on press night was supplied by the pews of stony-faced critics who seemed appalled that a blonde Essex trollop was being allowed to spew her far-right filth in their carbon-neutral faces. They wore a collective grimace as if they were watching an adaptation of Pride and Prejudice in which Mrs Bennet says, ‘No problem.’

That the NT considers this play problematic tells us where the real problem lies

The National Theatre also seems to dislike this show and to mistrust its ability to win an audience. Its marketing gurus have created a YouTube advert in which Ripley and the author talk about Kerry as if she were a social deviant who deserves their pity.

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