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Kerry Jackson at the Dorfman Theatre

The title character in Kerry Jackson (Fay Ripley) is a paradox, at least on paper, a Leave voter who runs a Spanish restaurant and, as her chef Athena (Madeline Appiah) points out, she probably didn’t envisage paying tariffs on imported ingredients. Mercifully, talk of That Referendum doesn’t dominate proceedings, and the six on-stage characters are very different but are also all flawed people with redeeming features. That does, of course, sound like almost every human, but in portraying relatively rounded characters, the play as a whole is more relatable than it otherwise would be, whilst tackling various contemporary issues in a well-constructed play that flows brilliantly.

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

Kerry’s customers are, on the whole, satisfied with the service and food quality, and while money is tight, for Kerry it is almost entirely due to start-up costs that a new venture incurs. There’s no blaming energy prices or lack of Government support, and rather like most people running their own business, contrary to what mainstream media would have the public believe, she’s simply getting on with things and doing the best rather than spending inordinate amounts of time moping about external factors.

The show isn’t without stereotypes. Warren (Gavin Spokes) is one of those macho men who expects Kerry to remember him and everything about him despite only ever having previously met at a speed dating event some years ago. It naturally follows he barges his way into a private event at the restaurant and makes himself feel at home. Will (Michael Fox) is homeless, and when questioned by the ever-bolshy Kerry about his drug habits, he’s pretty much done the full works. I couldn’t determine for certain whether Alice (Kitty Hawthorne) considers herself ‘woke’ but she is a youngster with substantially different values to both Kerry and her father Stephen (Michael Gould).

It could be argued that the play covers a lot of ground without digging as deeply as it could into its many topics. It is, however, more amusing than it isn’t, which leaves members of the audience leaving the theatre feeling as though they have, to answer the perennial question asked of patrons, enjoyed themselves. Character development, meanwhile, is practically non-existent. I have no problems with a total lack of Damascene conversions (to any particular cause or outlook), and the play is grounded in the realism that a leopard can’t, after all, change its spots.

It’s a bold move to have no significant changes in character from start to finish, if only because nobody, in turn, redeems themselves. But the believability of the narrative stops the show from needing characters who perform U-turns in their viewpoints to keep things interesting, and sufficient dramatic tension arises from the characters being so widely different in the first – and last – place.

I have no complaints about the set – the National loves a revolve, and scenes are largely either in Stephen’s kitchen or in Kerry’s restaurant. Nothing, therefore, is said in a neutral meeting point, and how the balance of power shifts between the two rooms as well as within them is (to me) a fascinating watch. Not every disagreement is an adversarial one, and I liked how people generally spoke to rather than shouted at one another. Kerry’s sheer forthrightness is refreshing, as is the play’s ability to set out differing perspectives and letting audiences form their own conclusions about the characters. A thoughtful and intelligible look at city life.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

You can’t wait to meet her.
El Barco is the newest tapas restaurant in fashionable Walthamstow Village, and it’s Kerry Jackson’s pride and joy.

Wearing her working-class roots as a badge of honour, Kerry navigates the local characters in a bid to make the business a success – without losing herself in the process.

Fay Ripley (Cold Feet) is Kerry in this biting new comedy from April De Angelis (My Brilliant Friend) and directed by Indhu Rubasingham (The Father and the Assassin, The Great Wave).

CAST
Athena – Madeline Appiah
Will – Michael Fox
Stephen – Michael Gould
Alice – Kitty Hawthorne
Ensemble + Understudy Kerry – Kristin McIlquham
Fay Ripley – Kerry Jackson
Neil Sheffield photo portrait
Ensemble + Understudy Stephen & Warren – Neil Sheffield
Warren – Gavin Spokes

PRODUCTION TEAM
Director – Indhu Rubasingham
Set and Costume Designer – Richard Kent
Lighting Designer – Oliver Fenwick
Composer and Sound Designer – Nicola T. Chang
Movement and Intimacy Director – Lucy Hind
Casting Director – Juliet Horsley
Additional Casting – Chloe Blake
Staff Director – John Young

Kerry Jackson
a new play by April De Angelis
Now playing
Running Time: approx. 2 hours 30 mins incl. interval
Dorfman Theatre
https://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/

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