“Jumping the Barriers” is a new play from a new theatre group, the Courtyard Players, and it is being currently performed at the Spaces on the Mile. We are consigned to a single carriage on a train which is travelling across the south of England, from Exeter to London. Two fellow passengers are struggling over the thorny ground of small talk and they will gradually get to know each other. James (Adam JS Smith) and Nathan (Chris Daley) could be respective allegories of Remain and Brexit – the first is liberal and apprehensive, the second is working-class, brave, and irresponsible. Yet they quickly click. James is relaxed in Nathan’s company and interested in what he has to say. Nathan responds with genuine friendliness and sympathy.
The introduction of a third passenger (Mike Amargon) allows for some good visual humour and then a bit of a scrape. “Jumping the Barriers” is a well-crafted story and it toys pleasantly with the mystery of those strangers who always stand out on public transport. I am rarely confident enough to speak to such people, and so “Jumping the Barriers” leaves me with an unusual feeling of completeness, which I have never got from any train journey of my own.
Once we have collected all the facts of this story, however, there is a detectable hollowness to it. This fault can be traced to Nathan’s character. He is mostly a figure of Dickensian goodness, a little ray of sunshine which is never really dimmed by the murky references to his schizophrenia, or the moral hitch of his constant thieving. This trick that he has of deflating the bourgeois passengers’ condescension by reciting academic knowledge at them seems like too much of a fantasy. If he was really this mentally organised, then he would not be homeless and destitute. Nathan is a guru in a manner which is both clichéd and probably unrealistic to expect from a homeless person.
But perhaps the emphasis which is placed upon Nathan’s wisdom simply reflects the needs of James. This haggard commuter is so adrift that his life will be turned around by a mere exposure to the “freedoms” of a homeless man. There are problems with this side of the story too: James’ premature missus with her bossiness and middle-class pretensions smacks too readily of 1970s sitcoms; whilst the choice which confronts James at the end of the play is so easy that a child could get it right. I nonetheless enjoyed the feelgood ending.
All of my criticisms concern the destination, or the eventual clarification of what these characters represent, but most of the play is the journey. Here, there is little to criticise – “Jumping the Barriers” is entertaining and suspenseful, and it makes for a quick hour of stress-free travel.