Events Walthamstow

Review: Kerry Jackson at the National Theatre

Tom Phillips reviews a new play set in a Walthamstow tapas restaurant

Kerry Jackson (credit: Marc Brenner)

It’s fair to say that Walthamstow has changed a bit in the last few decades. Those changes provide the backdrop for April De Angelis’s enjoyable, if shallow, new comedy – in which avatars of the old and the new Walthamstow meet, bicker and find small moments of human connection.

The setting is the tapas restaurant recently opened by the titular Kerry (Fay Ripley) in Walthamstow Village. (“Walthamstow Village Borders”, someone corrects her, indicating that any resemblance to a certain real-life Orford Road institution stops at the decor of the nicely detailed set.)

Kerry’s a proud working class woman still chasing the dream of Thatcher-era aspiration but things aren’t going smoothly at El Barco. Costs are high; footfall is low; her antique fridge could get the place shut down on health and safety grounds; and she doesn’t actually know much about Spanish cuisine. Croquettes? She’s had a few.

The narrative spark is provided by Kerry’s combative relationship with Stephen (Michael Gould), a widowed middle-class academic with a store of Guardian-approved opinions and a bundle of unprocessed grief. As his worldview and Kerry’s clash, they first trade barbs before – inevitably – tumbling into bed.

The play works better as broad, bawdy comedy than as a deeper examination of the issues it wants to raise. Serious topics are picked up and then discarded, often jarringly. It wants to say something about gentrification but struggles, because it’s unsure which – if any – of its characters are actually gentrifiers. Kerry, an Essex transplant funding the venture with her mum’s Right To Buy money, is awkwardly positioned as both sides of the debate, which fizzles out before it starts.

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And as an examination of modern Britain’s class schisms (rendered here mostly as matters of taste, not economics) it would be more convincing if its cast were liberated from stereotypes. When one character ends up voicing the play’s weirdly depressing message – that the classes are so divided they should simply never mix – it feels like a conclusion reached only because the deck’s been stacked by a script which prioritises punchlines over plausibility.

What saves it is that those punchlines are plentiful, solid and delivered energetically by an engaging cast. Anchoring it is Ripley’s barnstorming turn as Kerry, a woman with zero filters who unapologetically pursues what she wants and wears other people’s disapproval like armour. The Cold Feet star is clearly having a ball in her return to the stage and it’s down to her that we can care about Kerry’s dreams, even as she reveals herself to often be a nightmare. Among the rest of the cast, Madeline Appiah and Kitty Hawthorne do good work finding layers of humanity in otherwise one-note roles.

It’s an entertaining evening and worth it for Ripley’s performance – even if you’re left with the frustrating feeling that a more satisfying meal could have been assembled from these raw ingredients.

Find out more and book tickets until 28th January here.

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