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Jellyfish review at Bush Theatre, London – ‘tender, compassionate, radical’

Penny Layden and Sarah Gordy in Jellyfish at Bush Theatre, London. Photo: Tristram Kenton

Kelly and Neil enjoy hot chips, walks on the beach and each other’s company. Kelly likes Iron Man, Neil thinks he’s the worst of the Avengers. Kelly has Down’s Syndrome and Neil does not.

Ben Weatherill’s compassionate bittersweet romantic comedy explores what happens when Kelly and Neil decide to take their relationship further. Kelly’s mother Agnes struggles to see her child as an adult woman with her own desires. She worries that Neil is taking advantage of her daughter. Weatherill forces the audience to question their own preconceptions about disability and what it is to fall in love.

Sarah Gordy is just superb as Kelly, spirited, playful, stubborn, frustrated, and eager to experience the things that other women her age do, to flirt, to kiss and be kissed, to make her own mistakes. Penny Layden’s Agnes is protective, fierce, and a fighter because she’s had to be, to raise Kelly alone. The character of Neil feels less complete in comparison, but he’s performed with nuance and warmth by Ian Bonar. Nicky Priest, as Kelly’s neurodiverse friend Dominic, dilutes the play when it threatens to become too intense – his comic timing is bang on – and allows for scenes in which two characters with different disabilities get to hang out and talk about their worries and hopes. This feels incredibly radical in its own quiet way.

Tim Hoare’s sensitive production is evocatively designed by Amy Jane Cook; the floor has been carpeted with sand and brightly coloured arcade lights rainbow the walls.

Weatherill’s play is alert to the complexities of the characters’ situation, in particular the combative but tender mother-daughter relationship and, even though the plot escalates too quickly, in a way that is dramatically destabilising, it remains a thought-provoking and large-hearted piece of writing.

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Verdict
Sarah Gordy is superb in a compassionate, funny, thought-provoking and quietly radical play
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