Writer: Keith Waterhouse
Director: Tom Littler
Reviewer: Deborah Klayman
Adapted by Keith Waterhouse from his own comic novel, Good Grief follows June Pepper as she adjusts to life after the death of her husband, Sam. Newly widowed, June is irritated by the way others treat her, either with kid gloves or with distain, and is sick to the back teeth of having to ask for ‘just one’ of everything. Step-daughter Pauline is fussing while smarmy Eric from Sam’s newspaper keeps turning up with an ulterior motive, and the only place she can find solace is in the local pub talking to a man who is wearing her late husband’s suit.
Set in the 1990s, the play does not feel at all dated, dealing as it does with universal themes surrounding bereavement, grief, and starting again later on in life. The central rôle of June is played to a tee by Penelope Keith, who manages to eke every bit of humour from the darkly comic script. In an emotive second half soliloquy, June poignantly relates the panic she feels when she realises all the things she has never had to do herself, like renewing the house insurance. Deeply moving and powerfully resonant, Keith’s delivery makes this moment the jewel of the piece.
Where the play lacks, however, is in the development of the other characters and the unconvincing ending. Despite being excellent in his oleaginous rôle, Jonathan Firth’s Eric is never given space to reveal his true motivation, while Pauline (Flora Montgomery) is only afforded a few lines to put over her backstory, making her revelations seem almost glib as there is no space for an emotional journey. Christopher Ravenscroft is wonderful as ‘The Suit’, and cultivates a compelling relationship with June, however this is resolved suddenly and in an rather unfulfilling way.
Perhaps too much has been cut from the second act, or perhaps it is just written that way, but the final moments felt rushed and uncertain, which was a great shame given the quality of the rest of the piece. Coupled with an overly complicated set, these factors prevented Good Grief from achieving its full potential, but nonetheless it is an engaging, amusing piece of theatre which is extremely enjoyable and with flashes of true brilliance.