Kerry Jackson

April De Angelis
National Theatre
National Theatre (Dorfman Theatre)

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Madeline Appiah as Athena and Fay Ripley as Kerry Credit: Marc Brenner
Fay Ripley as Kerry and Michael Gould as Stephen Credit: Marc Brenner
Fay Ripley as Kerry and Gavin Spokes as Warren) Credit: Marc Brenner
Kitty Hawthorne as Alice and Gavin Spokes as Warren Credit: Marc Brenner
Madeline Appiah as Athena Credit: Marc Brenner
Michael Fox as Will Credit: Marc Brenner

There is something very old fashioned about Kerry Jackson. With its setting in a café-bar and a kitchen and its character stereotypes, it is more like a television sitcom or last century rep fodder than cutting-edge theatre, though its intention is clearly to challenge the attitudes of every one of them and hence those of her audience.

It is set in a gentrified part of Walthamstow where new restauranteur, working-class Kerry Jackson (Fay Ripley), has opened El Barca with the profit from selling her mother’s former council house. She’s got the talk as far as wine and food go, now she is learning to walk it and bring in the customers with the help of her cook, Athena (Madeline Appiah). One of her tactics is calling on neighbours carrying a bottle of house wine for them to sample, including widowed philosophy lecturer Stephen and his daughter Alice.

Stephen is a cliché liberal intellectual supporting the usual causes (with gap-year Alice even more so) and Kerry a right-wing Brexiteer who voted leave. They argue about the homeless guy Will whom Stephen has befriended but who Kerry says shits by her rubbish bins. That doesn’t stop them from starting a physical relationship, though Stephen has competition in Warren (Gavin Spokes), a former flame of Jerry’s who is even more right wing than he is, and even Will wraps himself up in a Union Jack duvet.

A lot of fun is had with the conflicting values and political difference and the discrepancy between ideology and actual behaviour and as people reveal what they really think, but there is little sign of really serious argument, it is all superficial, although Kitty Hawthorne as Alice delivers a diatribe with great spirit and Athena’s father, though a successful academic, didn’t complete the right papers so she could be declared an illegal immigrant, while what happens to Michael Fox’s Will turns tragic.

It’s a strong cast with Fay Riley’s Kerry at its centre. She is a powerhouse of determined energy, at one point waving a fan and sporting a flamenco skirt styled as short as a mini-dress that splendidly matches her mindset. Director Indhu Rubasingham drives things at a fair lick, with a welcome pause for breath as Richard Kent’s beautifully detailed sets slowly revolve revealing dark shadows as they change from El Barco to Stephen’s kitchen. El Barco is another of those on-stage eateries where the customers, apart from Stephen and Warren, don’t make an appearance. There is a lot going on but this play keeps any real polemic offstage too.

An enthusiastic audience found it much funnier than I did, but the cast and production certainly earned their enthusiastic reception.

Reviewer: Howard Loxton