Jellyfish At The National Theatre Will Sting You Right In The Heart

Jellyfish, National Theatre ★★★★★

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Jellyfish At The National Theatre Will Sting You Right In The Heart Jellyfish, National Theatre 5
Photo: Helen Murray

What a powerful thing it is to have actors with disabilities not only represented, but given the space to shine on the stage of the National Theatre.

Jellyfish by Ben Weatherill stars the sublime Sarah Gordy as Kelly, a young woman with Down’s syndrome living by the seaside in Skegness, who falls in love with Neil, a developmentally normal man. It’s a bold issue to take on, one that provokes the audience to examine their own opinions and preconceptions. Is it problematic — or even legal — for a person with a developmental disability to have a sexual relationship with someone who does not? Is it predatory and exploitative? Or are Kelly and Neil just a young couple in love, who exchange flirtatious banter and tender kisses like any other?

Photo: Helen Murray

The play is explicit in its intentions to surpass expectations and shatter perceptions around people with disabilities. In a self-consciously meta fashion, Jellyfish not only conveys but displays — through Sarah Gordy’s barnstorming central performance — what people with disabilities are capable of. Jellyfish could never be accused of shallow tokenism — the writing has real warmth and veracity, giving its characters personalities and back-stories entirely independent of the labels we, or society, choose to foist upon them.

Photo: Helen Murray

As Kelly’s overprotective and world-weary mother, Penny Layden is a powerhouse of maternal ferocity and tenderness. Like any parent of a child with disabilities, she wants her daughter to live as fulfilling and independent a life as possible, and yet struggles to reconcile this with her urge to protect her seemingly vulnerable daughter from the world. These are weighty issues by any measure, but thankfully Nicky Priest as Dominic (a young actor with Asperger’s) is there to provide some brilliantly deadpan comedic genius.

Photo: Helen Murray

Surprising, thought-provoking and above all emotionally honest, Jellyfish is, quite simply, a joy. More theatre like this please!

Jellyfish, National Theatre, South Bank, SE1 9PX. Tickets £15-£55, until 16 July 2019.

Last Updated 11 July 2019