Jumper Factory could do with a stronger thread

Christopher Walker reviews “The Jumper Factory,” playing at the Young Vic’s Maria studio until March 9 th www.youngvic.org/whats-on/the-jumper-factory 020 7922 2922
*** (Three stars)

The Young Vic has firm commitment to its local community through its “Taking Part” and “Neighbourhood Theatre” programmes. Both of these reach out to people in Lambeth and Southwark, and are great initiatives. The Taking Part Team led by Imogen Brodie “engage” with over 15,000 people a year.
“The Jumper Factory” comes from these efforts, and the Arts Council’s strong desire to capture previously unheard voices. Writer Luke Barnes went into Her Majesty’s Prison Wandsworth, and coaxed the men there into telling their tales. Barnes describes this experience as having been “life changing” and that “meeting the men in prison taught me we are all born equal and we are all so close to the life they live.”
The men on stage are not the prisoners themselves but young (inexperienced?) actors seeking to bring their stories to life. Their lives have “been affected in some way by the criminal justice system.”
Director Josh Parr has had a light touch, and there is no set. Simply Six actors and six plastic chairs. The lighting provides movement/scene. That’s fine – this IS the studio. But it could perhaps be more imaginative, and puts a lot of weight on the actors. They do not have defined roles – but all are good. Particularly Pierre Moullier and Tej Obano. I hope we shall see more of them and their colleagues Ayomide Adegun, Raphael Akuwudike, Jake Mills, and Rushand Chambers.
The previously unheard voices certainly have much to say. Apparently there were high emotions when the prisoners first saw the show. There are running themes. One is “shame,” in particular a concern about what their mothers will think. There are several tortured telephone calls from sons to their mothers where the boys claim to be working in a “Jumper Factory” (hence the title). The same lie is told to one prisoner’s young son when he comes to visit (as he’s school age – he must be very naïve to swallow it).
Another theme is of course the impact of prison on their relationships. As one (polygamous) prisoner says – “I wait whilst the world carries on, whilst my family grow old, whilst my lovers move on, and I count down the days, and I wait…” Sex, or rather the lack of it, is honestly flagged, with one prisoner fantasizing about rumours it takes place in the visiting room. But there is no mention of whether it occurs between the inmates themselves. That I guess would be too close to the bone.
This is a short piece (45 minutes) and it feels like Luke Barnes never really gets going. We really are not so much given “insights”, as “glimpses.” There is the makings of a story in one prisoner’s interactions with his partner, and her son. But by making the cast constantly switch roles and genders it is hard to “dig it out.” Director Josh Parr seems to be giving his actors an exercise in artistic versatility, but it makes it hard for the audience to follow, and is an opportunity thrown away. It would have been better to work with two actors and develop this more.
All in all this is a very interesting piece, and there is no doubt that the Young Vic’s “outreach” is excellent. Anyone who lives in Lambeth and Southwark and wants to be part of “Neighbourhood Theatre” can email neighbourhoodtheatre@youngvic.org.

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