Tom Stoppard’s 1972 farce Jumpers the gymnasts, or jumpers,
are professors of philosophy, headed by Archie, the vice-chancellor/dean,
in whose faculty we find ethics professor George Moore (no, not
the George Moore, writer
of Principia Ethica, as he must constantly explain). As
the curtain rises, against Vicki Mortimer’s splendid background
of the moon and stars, the Radical-Liberal political party are
celebrating their victory at George’s house, with an acrobatic
display by the professors, June-Moon songs by George’s wife Dotty,
and a strip tease on a swing. Meanwhile, George is phoning the
police to complain about the noise. Suddenly a shot rings out,
and the top man on the acrobats’ pyramid, Professor McFee, is
Inspector Bones (Nicholas Woodeson) to investigate. With
true Stoppardian misunderstanding (like the mix-up of James Joyce’s
and Lenin’s manuscripts in “Travesties”), George believes Bones
is investigating his phone complaint, not the murder. Bedazzled
by Dotty, who is the chief suspect, Bones joins the household,
and along with Archie, makes frequent visits to Dotty’s bedroom.
Under the expert direction of David Leveaux, the zany goings
intensify, via a revolving stage. We never do find out who committed
the murder, the least important item in antics that combine the
physical gymnastics of the jumpers with the verbal gymnastics.of
Stoppard and the mental gymnastics of his leading character, George.
Moore (“half of the students believe you are [the famous]
George Moore,” says Archie) holds the Chair of Ethics, next to
the lowest, which is theology. In an excellent, appealing
and detailed performance by Simon Russell Beale, George is a familiar
professorial type, absent-mindedly stepping on his pet turtle,
delighting in the turns of phrase he finds in composing a paper
for a symposium on “Man: Good, Bad, or Indifferent,” dictating
meticulously qualified long sentences to his secretary, testing
theories with a bow and arrow or hare and tortoise.
He reigns in his cluttered study but is insecure and bumbling
in Dotty’s mirrored bedroom. In contrast to the assertive,
suave Archie, well played by Jonathan Hyde, George is questioning
and back-tracking all the time, attempting to prove the existence
of morality and of “an incredible, indescribable and definitely
shifty God:” “I think, therefore God is. Or is it
his pursuit of defining “good,” George reduces to the absurd his
method of philosophical reasoning, through qualifying sentences
to a forced conclusion: “…to say this is a good bacon sandwich
is only to say that by the criteria applied by like-minded lovers
of bacon sandwiches, this one is worthy of approbation.
The word good is reducible to other properties such as crisp,
lean and unadulterated by tomato sauce. You will have seen
at once that to a man who likes his bacon sandwiches underdone,
fatty and smothered in ketchup, this would be a rather poor bacon
Davis is a delightful Dotty, George’s young wife, who in a glittering
outfit looks and sings like Marlene Dietrich at the opening party,
but forgets the lyrics. She is depressed at seeing the astronauts
jumping on the same moon that figures in her romantic songs.
Taking to her bed, she may or may not be having an affair with
Archie, who may or may not be visiting her as her psychiatrist.
His reply to George on this matter is ambiguous:
Therapy takes many forms.
I had no idea you were still practicing.
Oh yes…a bit of law, a bit of philosophy, a bit of medicine,
a bit of gym…A bit of one and then
a bit of the other.
You examine her?
Oh yes, I like to keep my hand in.
has his own philosophical doubletalk. He and Bones hear
Dotty (offstage} cry “Help!”
It’s all right –just exhibitionism; what we psychiatrists call
“a cry for help.’
But it was a cry for help.
Perhaps I’m not making myself clear. All exhibitionism
is a cry for help, but a cry for help as such is
ten jumpers do a fine job, including a near-ballet when the body
of McFee is neatly bundled into a blue plastic bag. When George
asks why McFee would crawl into a plastic bag to shoot himself,
Archie replies: “Hard to say. He always was tidy.”
Stoppard’s own deft answer, when asked whether his plays were
intended to be serious or comic: “It’s a matter of taste whether
one says they’re wonderfully frivolous saddened by occasional
seriousness, or whether there’s a serious play irredeemably ruined
by the frivolous side of this man’s nature.” Performance schedule: