Writer: Keith Waterhouse
Director: Tom Little
Reviewer: Rebecca Brown
The Public Reviews Rating:
Grief is a funny thing. How often do we tell a quick joke to laugh off something that cuts deeper than we let on? Keith Waterhouse’s Good Grief, an adaptation of his own novel of the same name, understands that laughter can offer a cathartic release from pain and that it’s so commonly used as a way of masking deeper feelings. Penelope Keith, best known for her roles in The Good Life and To the Manor Born, reprises her role as June Pepper, the widow of a tabloid newspaper editor who advised her to keep a diary after his death. When June is drawn to a stranger wearing her husband’s old suit, old skeletons come out the closet and it’s not her husband’s death, but his life, that comes to haunt her.
With a set that switches with ease between a cosy home setting and the pub, Good Grief is reminiscent of a British TV sitcom but Waterhouse’s humorous script ensures that it rises above most sitcom clichés. Even set against the grandeur of the Kings Theatre space, June’s confidential monologues to her husband, which are told directly to the audience, allows Keith to immediately set up an intimate rapport with the audience.
The entire cast are very good and perform their roles competently, but none come close to stealing the limelight from Keith. It comes as no surprise that Keith played June when the play premièred in 1998 because the role fits her perfectly. Her unaffected air, witty asides and constant need to put a comedic spin on her life makes her acting feel very honest. Keith’s comedic timing is spot on and there’s no doubt that she carries this play.
Despite Keith’s infallible performance, the play isn’t without its faults: the pace is slow and often drags, especially because the set changes happen at such a glacial pace, stunting the rhythm of the already gentle action. The ending descends into a moment of farcical comedy which stretches believability and makes the play feel dated. Whilst it draws a loud laugh from the crowd, it feels like a forced attempt to insert more drama into the play and it acts as a rather weak ending. Though the play is mildly intriguing throughout it never quite escalates to a satisfying conclusion.
As a play that explores the ways in which we deal with grief it hits the comedic notes with more confidence than it hits the emotional ones. June’s grief is more noticeable when she covers it with witty quips and jokes at her own expense. We laugh at June’s stories of widowhood and her addiction to mint aero and copious amounts of vodka, or any other booze she can find in the house. We laugh when she returns to Oxfam to purchase her husband’s old, bacon-smelling dressing gown but that laughter is always tainted by something much more sad. Whilst Good Grief isn’t ground breaking, it’s an earnest, funny piece of theatre which is much more uplifting and enjoyable than might be expected. Waterhouse’s deft writing is given life by Keith’s faultless performance and there is more light than dark here, as a reminder that even in the bleakest times it’s possible to find a few laughs.
Runs until Saturday 6th October 2012