Tamsin Greig (Hilary) and Bel Powley (Tilly) play mother and daughter in Jumpy. Photo by Robert Workman.
One of the UK’s best-known comic actors, Tamsin Greig is principally known for her TV roles in Black Books, Green Wing and Episodes, but it’s her theatre career that has flourished recently. Able to tread the line between drama and comedy, she perfectly embodies roles such as Hilary in Jumpy, April de Angelis's Royal Court hit that is now taking its rightful place in the West End.
Frank and effortlessly funny, Jumpy touches on some of the more banal idiosyncrasies of everyday life, subjects that might deter many an actor. However, as Tamsin explains, that was exactly what drew her to the play.
“I think it’s the normality of the woman that really intrigued me. She hasn’t changed the world, she’s not a known person, and she’s entering that classic period of invisibility. Yes, of course we’re interesting in women that have discovered things and have brought revelation and extraordinary change to the world. Yes we are. But women are also bringing about extraordinary change just by bringing up a daughter.”
A mother, a wife, and fifty, Tamsin’s character once protested at Greenham. Now her protests tend to focus on persuading her teenage daughter to go out fully clothed.
“I was very interested in how women navigate that unseen torment of doing something when you’re completely at sea – trying to hold on to a marriage, hold on to a job and hold on to a daughter who doesn’t want to be held on to. And the natural surrender that has to occur in order for new life to continue. The writer, April de Angelis, said ‘women bring daughters, children into the world and then they have to let them go, and that’s not nothing.’ And yet it’s seen as something so ordinary, so normal. I think it’s a very abnormal struggle – and I was very drawn to that.”
Though the play focuses on everyday life, it occasionally touches on bigger issues.
“I think it’s really difficult for girls now,” says Tamsin, “it’s a tough time. Hilary was a Greenham Common protester, she was part of that whole 70s resurgence in the women’s movement – trying to give women a voice and to give them hope. She was part of the revolution to acquire a new liberty, and yet this new liberty seems to express itself in girls going out and wearing nothing. There’s a terrible dilemma in that. What have we won for our daughters? What is their freedom really?”
Though Tamsin perfectly embodies a mother in strife, she’s yet to experience the challenges teenagers can bring. “My own children are younger than the character in the play,” she explains, “so I’m prophetically imagining what our lives are going to be like. But I’m a daughter and - although I don’t think I was ever that violent or vocal - that struggle of living with a mother who wanted to have an influence, I think most people can draw on that.”
When asked why she returns to the stage time and time again, despite her film and TV success, her answers become increasingly philosophical. “People say that things on film, on celluloid, last forever because they’re captured, but actually there’s something about theatre and the thing that happens in the moment, the aliveness, that’s what lasts forever because it can’t be captured. So it lives uniquely in everybody who’s experienced it. You can’t catch it, you can’t frame it.”
Referring back to Jumpy, she notes, “there’s this line in the play when Hilary is talking about Greenham Common, she says she felt this incredible energy, and also lots of confusion. And I think that’s exactly what happens in the theatre – you feel this incredible energy. It’s beyond belief, if you’re properly present, and I think that’s really valuable.”
It’s clear that it’s this energy that Tamsin thrives on, an energy she uses to her advantage.
“Every performance is different because the audience is different. It’s like having a new actor turn up every performance. So I don’t need to keep myself alive on stage, the audience does it for me. It’s just about being ready for what they bring.”
Jumpy is at the Duke of York's Theatre until November 3, 2012. Buy your ticket