Jumpers

Jumpers is a play by Tom Stoppard which was first performed in 1972. It explores and satirises the field of academic philosophy, likening it to a less-than skilful competitive gymnastics display. Jumpers raises questions such as "What do we know?" and "Where do values come from?" It is set in an alternative reality where some British astronauts have landed on the moon and "Radical Liberals" (read pragmatists and relativists) have taken over the British government (the play seems to suggest that pragmatists and relativists would be immoral: Archie says that murder is not wrong, merely "antisocial"). It was inspired by the notion that a manned moon landing would ruin the moon as a poetic trope and possibly lead to a collapse of moral values. It is often listed among Stoppard’s strongest plays.

Plot

George Moore is a faded and slightly foolish philosophy professor employed at a university whose slick, exercise-mad Vice-Chancellor Archie Jumper forces a tumbling and leaping curriculum on the faculty. One such flipping prof, McFee, is shot dead in the cabaret chaos of the opening scene, setting off a suddenly very urgent philosophical duel on the moral nature of man. Caught in between is Dotty, George's disturbed wife and Archie's "patient." Dotty, a former student of George's, ended a semi-successful stage career when the sight of astronauts on the moon unhinged her sanity. According to Dotty, the conquering of the moon revealed the human race—once scientifically and spiritually the center of the universe—as "little, local."[1]

A significant element of the play is George's unavailing efforts to define 'Good' and other philosophical abstractions, in which he demonstrates his foolishness and lack of connection with the real world.

The bathetic climax comes when George, firing an arrow to demonstrate Zeno's paradox, accidentally shoots dead a pet hare he uses to model the fable of the Hare and the Tortoise. Blinded by grief, he steps on and crushes the tortoise which forms the other part of the demonstration.

The British moon landing parodies the Terra Nova expedition to the South Pole led by Robert Falcon Scott, in which the astronauts, rather than dying together, turn on one another in adversity.

Productions

The play was first performed by the National Theatre Company at the Old Vic Theatre, London on 2 February 1972 with Michael Hordern and Diana Rigg in the leading roles of George and Dorothy. Peter Wood directed the original production and Carl Toms designed its sets and costumes.

The play premiered on Broadway on 22 April 1974 at the Billy Rose Theatre and closed on 1 June 1974 after 48 performances.[2] Directed again by Peter Wood, choreography and staging by Dennis Nahat and original music by Claus Ogerman, it featured Brian Bedford and Jill Clayburgh.[3] Bedford won the Drama Desk Award, Outstanding Performance.

In 1984 Nicholas Hytner directed a production at the Royal Exchange, Manchester with Tom Courtenay as George, Julie Walters as Dotty and John Bennett as Archie.

A revival directed for the Royal National Theatre by David Leveaux opened in London's Lyttelton Theatre on June 19, 2003.[4] The show transferred to Broadway on 25 April 2004, playing at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre, and closed on 11 July 2004 after 89 performances and 23 previews. The Broadway show featured Simon Russell Beale as George and Essie Davis as Dotty. The play received a Tony Award nomination for Best play revival.

References

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