Despite the best efforts of all concerned, including Fay Ripley, Kerry Jackson is a thundering disappointment at the National Theatre
“You are disauthenticating me”
After what has largely been a brilliant year, the National Theatre is wobbling just a little at the last. April De Angelis’ Kerry Jackson lands like a lead balloon in the Dorfman, billed a biting comedy but ultimately toothless as it tries, and utterly fails, to say something interesting about class. With Fay Ripley at the helm, the potential feels there but quite why she chose this play to make a rare foray onto the stage is baffling.
The main problem lies in a set-up that feels so pleased with itself, that too little work seems to have been done to support it, to build an effective theatrical framework around it. Ripley’s Essex-born Kerry is a working-class, leave-voting Thatcherite who is running, wait for it, a tapas restaurant. And get this, she’s opened it in the rapidly gentrifying Walthamstow Village. What larks. Again, not a premise without some merit, just lacking in meaningful development.
She’s racist towards her black chef, vicious to the homeless guy who hangs around, and throws herself at the drippy teacher who writes restaurant reviews. Coulda been an effective antihero or satirical weapon, instead she’s just loaded with clichéd working-class stereotypes. And as De Angelis is an equal opportunities offender, the middle classes also get it in the neck with Michael Gould’s painfully written Stephen just as banal in his lazily-hewn characterisation.
There’s shit jokes about Gen X-ers as Stephen’s daughter is employed as a waitress but further confirms that no playwright should ever use ‘woke’ as a character descriptor, it is just getting embarrassing now. The strained attempts at tragic grace notes are appallingly handled. And even if you were inclined to be more forgiving if it were funny enough, far too many of its jokes fall flat as Indhu Rubasingham’s smart-looking production can’t hide the hollowness at the heart of this misjudged play.