April de Angelis’s new play is a class comedy insofar as it is recognisably supposed to be about class and it is recognisably supposed to be a comedy. What the actual point of ‘Kerry Jackson’ is, though, I’m not sure.
Maybe the point is as simple as being a vehicle for ‘Cold Feet’ star Fay Ripley, who is undeniably charismatic in the title role, a boisterous working-class Essex Thatcherite who has just opened El Barco, a Spanish restaurant in Walthamstow. She soon crosses the path of Stephen (Michael Gould), a drippy local philosophy teacher who comes across like a refugee from a Richard Curtis film, what with his painfully right-on views, dead wife and sassy-but-naive daughter Alice (Kitty Hawthorne).
Long story short: Kerry and Stephen bang. Then they fall out. There is a lot of agonising over Will (Michael Fox), a book-loving local homeless guy who Kerry dislikes and Stephen is concerned for in a sort of detached liberal-guilt way.
What is De Angelis actually saying with all this? Both Kerry and Stephen feel like they’re meant to be archetypal representatives of their class: Kerry is foul-mouthed, self-absorbed and proudly unintellectual; Stephen is a pearl-clutching snob who unsurprisingly turns out to be incapable of living up to his own lofty ideals. If Indhu Rubasingham’s slightly ponderous production had hammed them up by 50 percent more then it would probably have come across as a pretty decent satire on class satires. As it is, it feels like it clunkily stereotypes both working-class and middle-class people to real no end beyond being confident that it’s funny enough to get away with it. And really, it’s not, despite some good individual lines, enjoyably tossed out by Ripley, who does seem to be having a ball.
If it has a sitcommy familiarity to it, De Angelis is able to push things further than she might on a BBC teatime telly drama. But she doesn’t. When Kerry abuses her Black chef Athena (Madeline Appiah) by threatening to have her deported, the play ultimately forgives her, or strains to make it seem equivalent to Stephen nastily calling Kerry a ‘pleb’ in a moment of anger. People are imperfect and say horrible things when they’re stressed and should be forgiven… is the moral of the story? The middle classes and the working classes are basically parodies of themselves that don’t really mix? I honestly don’t know: nobody really learns anything, nobody has an inner life: maybe I’m overthinking a play that’s purely meant to churn out the lols. ‘Kerry Jackson’ threatens to be an incisive drama about class stereotypes and gentrification; it settles for abject mediocrity instead.