Writer and performer: Ellie Harrison
Reviewer: Glen Pearce
Where grief used to be a private affair, the deaths of celebrities such as Michael Jackson, Jade Goody and the Princess of Wales have turned grief into a much more public display. For those, though, struggling to show the required outpouring of inner emotions, Ellie Harrison may have the answer.
Using the death of Diana as a framework, Harrison takes us through the required rituals of becoming a good mourner. Part group therapy, part soul bearing, and a large part comedy, Harrison looks at our response to grief and how we deal with those who have suffered bereavement.
On paper it sounds a depressing hour but, thanks to Harrison’s charm and at times off the wall approach, it turns out to be surprisingly uplifting. As her guests we are invited to share our memories of the loss of Diana, engage in communal hugs and even partake of a medicinal port or cucumber sandwich. As memories of the national outpouring of grief around the death of the Princess of Wales flood back to us, Harrison battles to keep up the required standards of the bereaved – the endless cards and catering, the requirement to reel in the tears and to avoid mention of the ‘D’ word (late and no longer with us are far more sociably acceptable apparently).
The comedy though is designed to throw us slightly off track as an onscreen link up with Ellie’s alter ego, grief etiquette expert ‘Eleanor’, takes a much darker twist.
Audience participation is often a concept to send a shiver down the spine of the hardiest of souls but here Harrison’s performance is so encompassing and engaging that it’s hard not to be drawn into her slightly surreal world.
As we approach a manic finale of Harrison demonstrating various options of displaying grief from the movies, Harrison confesses the Diana grief has all been nothing more than a device to get us to think about reactions to death. This breaking of the act somewhat weakens the piece. We of course realise that we’ve been watching an act, and I doubt if anyone would truly believe some of the advice being given so it seems unnecessary and somewhat patronising to explain it to us. It would have been a stronger ending to allow the audience to take their own message from the piece and to maintain that artistic illusion.
Those last five minutes aside, Etiquette of Grief provides a wry look at an otherwise taboo subject and as laughter often the best way to cope with difficult emotions perhaps provides its own tonic for bereavement.