King’s Theatre, Portsmouth – until 18 February 2023
Reviewed by Gemma Gibson
Have you ever fancied creating your own comedy?
Jumping the Shark explores just that, while unearthing the trauma, mix ups and relationships of five eager writers.
The new comedy by David Cantor and Michael Kingsbury begins in a bland conference room in a hotel on the outskirts of Farnham. Sitcom writer and comedy legend Frank Donohue (played by David Schaal) has flown in from Los Angeles to conduct a seminar on how to write the perfect funny show.
As Frank reveals the secrets to sitcom writing – the comedy in truth and the disconnect; the ‘rule of C’; the impact of ‘jumping the shark’ – we begin to learn more and more about each character and what lies beyond their desire to be funny.
The mixed bag of personalities taking part in the seminar, performed by a star-studded cast, is what brings this play to life. Dale (Jack Trueman) is the cheeky braggart who loves banter, Pam (Sarah Moyle) is trying to find her voice away from a sad marriage, Gavin (Robin Sebastian) is the people-pleasing actor, Morgan (Harry Visinoni) is the aloof poet with parent problems, and Amy (Jasmine Armfield) is the mysterious bright spark who Frank has dealt with once before.
The first act is a bit of a slower pace – it feels like you’re actually in the seminar! – but this does give ample time to pay homage to previous sitcom treasures, introduce each character and hint at their story, and prepare for what is an amazing second half.
Each novice is challenged to write and act out a scene from their own sitcom, and it’s hilarious. Dale’s story received the biggest laugh, Amy’s left us wanting more, and Morgan’s world of rats left the audience in stitches.
While this is the moment the play comes into its own, each sitcom draft reveals the vulnerability and genuine issues faced by each character. The workshop not only helps them create a successful sitcom, but allows them to open up about their own hardships and trauma.
In a short amount of time the play successfully taps into the lives of each member of the seminar group, Frank included, but I would have loved to hear even more. Especially with Amy’s sitcom – the one the audience is waiting for – which is sadly lacking the electricity and conviction it needs for its level of bombshell.
Despite this, Jumping the Shark is gripping in its use of everyday characters and plots. It is so easy to connect with at least one person on that stage. The acting is natural and easy to watch, with lots of touching moments and excellent comedic timing.
If you want to learn how to write comedy with some laughs and drama along the way, this is the play for you.