Jellyfish review – love, fear and glimmering magic in Skegness

Bush theatre, London
There is tenderness and humour in Ben Weatherill’s play about a young woman with Down’s syndrome caught between her boyfriend and her mother

The stage is so over-filled with sand that the audience sit with it between their feet. The set – a pier, some fairground lights, an imagined sea tipping off stage – exquisitely captures the faded glory of Skegness. Here, Kelly, a 27-year-old woman with Down’s syndrome, is caught between her able-bodied boyfriend, Neil, and her over-protective mother, Agnes. The playwright, Ben Weatherill, developed Kelly’s character with the actor who plays her, Sarah Gordy, who also has Down’s.

There are glimmers of magic in Weatherill’s play. The relationship between Neil (Ian Bonar) and Kelly has tenderness and humour; a dance scene between them is as surreal as it is sensational; a scene between Neil and Agnes (Penny Layden), which considers the “care” that Kelly needs, is nuanced and thought-provoking. Nicky Priest, a comedian with Asperger syndrome who plays Kelly’s friend, Dominic, delivers his lines with a fantastic deadpan humour.

The play’s central dramatic tension revolves around Agnes’s fear that Kelly will be exploited in a world without her as prime carer, and the emotional battle between mother and daughter is key, but it fails to gather depth, particularly in the first half of the play. Agnes’s character seems confined by her repeated message – that Kelly is vulnerable – with little texture beyond.

This affects the emotional currency of the play and the script takes some time to warm up. But Amy Jane Cook’s stage design is used to stunning effect, as is the sound, by Ella Wahlström, from the pop ballads (Buddy Holly, Tom Jones) to the squawk of seagulls and the tinkle of merry-go-rounds that leaves us almost smelling the sea.

• At Bush theatre, London, until 21 July.


Arifa Akbar

The GuardianTramp

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