Jumping the Shark Review

Upstairs at the Gatehouse – until Sunday 12th March 2023

Reviewed by Ben Jolly


Just when you thought it was safe to go back to the theatre, Jumping the Shark, a brand new comedy hits the scene this week performing Upstairs at the Gatehouse…

The Golden GirlsDiff’rent StrokesOnly Fools & Horses…! I hear myself checking off theme tunes from the golden age of sitcoms being played through the sound system as we wait for an evening of entertainment; a lovely attention to detail which I do appreciate. 

Taking place at a seminar for television sitcom writing, instructed by one of the industry’s prominent and respected writers, Frank Donohue, five privileged and eager writer newbies gather in a conference room in Farnham to meet their prophet and soak up the knowledge he has to bear. While time passes, each individual’s personal lives are brought up and we slowly learn the backstories behind this complex cast of characters.

The phrase from which the title takes its inspiration has been used in the television ‘biz for years and defines that pinnacle moment when a TV show has hit its peak and thus in the face of declining quality uses cheap gimmicks and gags to keep the show afloat.

One by one, as our characters arrive at the conference room, we are introduced to our classmates; while each persona has been thoroughly thought out, they initially come across two dimensional and it takes until the second act of this play to really see another side to them.

The first act has a clever, monologue performed by David Schaal as Frank (our sitcom professor) who has the difficult task of playing a character who is clearly bored and performing his own well–rehearsed speech without coming across as, well, bored and over rehearsed in the performance he is giving us – he does carry this well and when things start to go off script later in the play, manages to heighten his performance accordingly.

There are some truly wonderful performances from Sarah Moyle as Pam and Robin Sebastian as Gavin. Sarah lifts the text off the page and adds her own comedy magic while expertly trading the line so as not to go overboard or take anything away from the dialogue. Sarah and Robin have great chemistry as Gavin and Pam and we instinctively warm to these characters.

The other half of the cast include Jack Trueman as Dale, Jasmine Armfield as Amy and Harry Visinoni playing the part of Morgan. These actors all have their moments to shine and do a wonderful job at keeping the energy up throughout.

I couldn’t help but feel that the structure of the play could be better organised, such a linear timeline didn’t help the slow pace of the first act, and when things started to heat up during Act 2, it really highlighted how much the first act had been dragging, I am sure that nothing more than a little restructure of the scenes and some more dynamic direction could fix this.

The writers, David Cantor and Michael Kingsbury (who also directs) have had extensive careers in the sitcom television world and this definitely shows with their industry terminology, fast paced jokes and instinctive knowledge of comedic timing. The piece currently works as though it is a 6 episode television series, as a play however, I think just a touch more theatricality could take it to the next level. That being said, at the end of the day, if you’re as big a fan of the classic sitcom format as I am, you won’t be disappointed by this charming piece of work.