Jumping the Sharks

November 24, 2010


Blood in the Alley Theatre presents 'Jumping the Sharks' by Michael Lovett.

There are a lot of things to enjoy about Jumping the Sharks, the new play from Blood in the Alley Theatre Company. There’s the competent central performance from Don Wycherley; the darkly comic script from Michael Lovett; and the subtle direction of Geoff Gould, former artistic director of the Everyman Theatre in Cork. But despite the fact that there are quite a few laughs to be had, it doesn’t seem to be about anything – certainly not anything new, and leaves one feeling a little hollow when the humour subsides.

Meet Nick Cross, the CEO of Pegasus Holdings, a philanderer, thief, user, abuser with no conscience, no scruples and, as his wife neatly surmises, an “unadulterated cunt of a man”. He’s also dead, residing in purgatory. He’s been given a chance at redemption, peppered with the promised return of the one thing that means the most to him in the world – a video he took of his wife and two daughters on holidays at Martha’s Vineyard. All he has to do is tell us his story – to make us hate him – and each time we lapse into empathy, he is punished with almighty pain.

And therein lies the problem. Because we don’t hate him. For all his faults and in spite of all his crass behaviour, his crude exposition explains away his caddish personality and the Wycherley twinkle is always in the eye. The writing needed to take us into the realms of extreme human behaviour to make us see the pleasure he derived from other people’s misery and witness what a vile human being he was. We needed a monstrosity of LaBute proportions yet what we get was another ode to abusive childhood’s driving socially inept adults in the wrong, yet profitable, direction. He does some despicable things – like cheating on his wife with an array of hookers while she is undergoing chemotherapy – but then he tells us a sob story about his fist-happy father and indulges in demeaning, sadomasochistic behaviour as a suggested means of punishing himself.

Don Wycherley in 'Jumping the Sharks'.

Wycherley is decent as the malevolent Nick, a pony-tailed comb-over and a pinstripe suit painting the picture of his personality beautifully. He convinces, yet never surprises, as the giver of this supposed cautionary tale, his diction and accent occasionally slipping but rarely losing us. He tells his story standing in a lit, white square centre stage, with the occasional blurred photograph of him and a hooker or him and a family member projected on the plain black walls behind him, making little impact on us or the production. His movement is limited and he refers to other characters rather than bringing them to life. The emphasis is placed squarely on what he has to say.

And unfortunately Nick Cross says nothing new. We’ve been down this road many times before and Lovett finds no new way of utilizing the monologue format. Although neatly structured as a piece of writing (influenced by the Christopher Booker tome The Seven Basic Plots), Jumping the Sharks shines no new light on the fragile human psyche as it’s ground through the capitalist blender; the character reaches no clear conclusions, makes no new realisations about himself or others; and he fails in his attempt to get us to hate him – losing this piece its original concept. Instead of stewing us in his depraved behaviour, Lovett plays it safe and explains it away, making him less hateful, more pitiable. Ultimately, the occasional chortle aside, there’s nothing new or particularly memorable to be seen here.

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