Kerry Jackson, National Theatre, review: This show would instil empathy in the most hardened sociopaths
Amid the deafening noise of the culture wars, when everyone’s trying to shout the loudest to get their point across, we need shows like Kerry Jackson. A new piece by April De Angelis, it employs an almost perplexingly simple set up to show how easily we forget to look for the empathy in one another.
Kerry Jackson is 52, working class, and has lived in London all her life. She’s just opened her new business, a Spanish tapas restaurant, and she’s a ball of energy – but it’s not long before she starts dishing out opinions about everyone from the local homeless guy to who should and shouldn’t be allowed into the country. She has a poisonous tongue, but would probably be good fun on a night out.
Then there is Stephen, played by Michael Gould, a mild-mannered, middle class visitor who gets wrapped up in Kerry’s restaurant life and also in-between her sheets.
With a small cast, their pairing feels predictable, but the rest is surprising and sensational: De Angelis writes convincingly from both perspectives as the couple joust over just about everything, displaying their polarised attitudes, and there’s a shocking culmination that gives Ibsen a run for his money.
The script is basically the story of Kerry getting schooled by a posh bloke but De Angelis shows how he’s as broken as she is. “That’s the first time you’ve told the truth,” Jackson barks at him – correctly – after he erupts at her one night, exploding any presumption that his middle class status gives him a moral highground.
It’s all devastatingly convincing, forcing us to look inward at our own prejudices. In particular, Fay Ripley’s studied performance as Kerry Jackson feels like an homage to working class London women. Jackson feels real, like she’s been plucked off the street. Ripley is hilarious but she gets at every part of this woman: she nails her defensiveness, her gestures, her feline walk and how her voice morphs, words sometimes flying like poison darts, at others with an inquiring softness.
She’s dressed to look the part by Richard Kent, and there’s clever juxtaposition in the staging, especially when a homeless guy called Will, brought to life by Michael Fox, is shown cowering outside on the streets, inches from where the two of them are discussing his fate as if it were literal dinnertime entertainment.
It’s disarmingly simple: how De Angelis calls her show Kerry Jackson, how the poster is a picture of Kerry Jackson – it’s so straightforward that it shouldn’t work. But De Angelis and Ripley have turned out to be a ferocious female power team. More, please.
Kerry Jackson plays at the National Theatre until 28 January