Friday 26 May 2017

Jam @ The Finborough Theatre

Jam @ The Finborough Theatre

There have been countless plays and films about teacher-student relationships. In the theatrical world, David Mamet’s Oleanna particularly stands out. Matt Parvin’s Jam, then, isn’t the most original setup.

The slight twist is that the 23 year old Kane (Harry Melling, best known as Dudley Dursley from the Harry Potter films) is returning to his school ten years after he was a student there. He was a difficult child at school with ADHD, who made a big impact on his teacher’s life. Now he appears unannounced at the school to haunt her, claiming he’s dying from a brain tumour. But is he lying? What does he really want? Is he a ghost from the past come to terrorise, or an angel come to impart wisdom for the future?

Bella (Jasmine Hyde) is not as innocent as she seems. Initially on edge, she just as easily manipulates Kane and hides her prejudice beneath her kind teacher exterior. Did she have a hand in his behaviour? Or was she simply ill-equipped to deal with his condition?

Jam is a power play between these two characters, though it doesn’t quite hold tension throughout. The script meanders through idle chat that doesn’t always serve the narrative, though it does take the audience for a ride of peaks and troughs. Plenty of themes are covered, from its central focus on teacher-student relationships, to abuse and violence, living in the moment, and coping with mental health. It’s just not as taut as it could be to keep the audience truly on the edge of their seats throughout.

The play is led, though, by two performers who act with such visceral energy from every inch of their bodies. It’s almost as exhausting to watch as it is for the actors – in a good way. They are the perfect foil to one another and as their passions escalate the play hits a shocking climax. Hyde’s Bella is like a coil: highly strung, uptight and devastating when she unfurls. She is just as unpredictable as Kane, both manipulator and victim, fond yet fearful, compassionate yet full of contempt.

Melling is wholly convincing as Kane, a man with a multitude of issues. It’s a complex performance both physically and mentally, innocently fidgeting with his clothes and then bounding around the cage-like stage like an ape. We, like Bella, never quite know where we stand with him as he fools and manipulates us. We care for him and fear him in equal measure – something that continues long after the lights fade.


Watch: Jam runs at the Finborough Theatre until 17th June.

Photo: Mathew Foster