The Girl in the Green Jumper review – The Playground Theatre, London ★☆☆☆☆

Photo: Helena Hipólito

Review by Natalie Evans

As part of The Playground Theatre’s season dedicated to Gail Loew, premiering some of her recent writings, The Girl in a Green Jumper allows us insider access to the marriage of Cryil and Renske Mann. Inspired by the latter’s memoir – this play takes us through the years, from their first meeting in 1959, right through to Cyril’s bitter end in 1980, relaying some of the darker details of their romance.

Sadly, what could have been an incredibly nuanced and sensitive piece came across as stunted and problematic. The pacing was somehow simultaneously rushed and extremely slow, with so many important pieces of character context being thrown in and never picked up again. As someone who didn’t know a great deal about the prolific artist or his wife prior to watching the production, it seemed to me that there was an assumption made that the audience already had an understanding of the characters, and so shortcuts were taken when developing them.

The dialogue was clunky and unnatural, particularly during phone conversations and arguments, which were commonplace within the text, and the random insertions of homophobic and misogynistic language may have been accurate, but felt entirely irrelevant and therefore unnecessary. Additionally, the blocking was clumsy, with the actors often appearing really quite awkward with one another, which I think could very possibly come down to the lack of an intimacy coordinator (or at least none that were credited) on a production with frequent nudity and several scenes of a sexual nature, including a depiction of rape.

As a potential result of this missing creative, I found there to be little to no chemistry between the characters, and so when their tumultuous relationship was romanticized, it felt both extremely troubling and ultimately hard to believe. Having said this, Natalie Ava Nasr does capture Renske’s humble strength very earnestly and honestly.

Renske was Cyril’s model and muse, publicist and provider, and yet all he appeared to do was abuse her with no ramification or explanation – both physically, with a rape that was never addressed again after the incident, and emotionally, as he consistently attempted to keep her in a subservient place that she never belonged in. “A woman’s virtue lies in her obedience” Mr Mann repeats. I have truly never come across such an irredeemably and infuriatingly unlikable character.

In reality, as is addressed in Renske’s autobiography, Cyril battled with Bipolar disorder all his life. Unfortunately though, rather than seeing a man struggling to control his inner demons, we were given a rudimentary display of mental illness with the rude and randomly angry man we saw on stage, and absolutely no mention of his condition. On top of this, these violent outbursts were always soon followed by a moment of tenderness between the couple, framed in such a way that I felt as though it was attempting to instill a sympathy for the abusive Cyril by saying ‘See? He loved her! The good outweighs the bad’. Particularly as the beginning and end of the play depicted a very sentimental Renske longing for her lost love…

All in all, I can see the vision that was being strived for, but the Beauty and the Beast narrative approach here didn’t quite resonate with me and the production as a whole was lacking a certain cohesion.

The Girl in the Green Jumper is at The Playground Theatre until the 24th March 2024