Good Grief (Online review)

Good Grief (Online review)

It seems like forever ago that production company Platform Presents were involved in the then innovative idea of carrying out a play reading on Zoom. This was Tom Stoppard’s A Separate Peace and it generated huge interest as something new to cover the gaps while theatres were closed; I daresay that after nine months of rehearsed readings online this would now seem rather passé. The company have now hooked up with Finite Films to produce something which has been designated a “plim” – horrible name – a play/film hybrid. While there’s nothing particularly radical about that as a concept it does draw attention to the way new drama is increasingly being presented. It is a rather timely look at loss and how we as a species cope.

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The psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross famously introduced the five stages of grief in a book called On Death and Dying, though I’m not sure she ever badged any of them as “good”. Yet in Lorien Haynes “plim” – really horrible name – we gradually come to understand that grieving as a part of loss is essentially a necessary evil and that, without it, humankind would be left in stasis and unable to move on. The couple in the piece – yes, that’s infinitely more acceptable – Adam and Cat amply demonstrate the five stage model consisting of denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. However, they do not necessarily do so sequentially or even concurrently. This gives the play its requisite tension and, at times, conflict. Liv is, or rather was, Adam’s partner and Cat’s best friend until she died at a tragically early age – how ironic given her name. Both of the people she left behind find it difficult to get past the event refusing to let go of her memory, her possessions and even her ashes. In an act of over compensation the two of them head into a relationship together though certainly they do not find closure that way. Over the six month timespan of the piece, we follow the trajectory of their individual and joint paths towards a sense of reconciliation with what has happened. The writing is taut and often spare and is apparently based on an actual occurrence in the author’s life.

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Adam and Kat are played by Nikesh Patel and Sian Clifford who make an engaging pairing and get to show us their range as the couple work through a whole gamut of emotions. Patel’s Adam, as the ostensibly closer of the two to Liv, seems more emotionally fragile although the truth is that it’s probably Kat/Clifford who is actually in this position – she is simply more adept at masking it. But, and it’s a distinct advantage of the form, it’s all there in the eyes which register the pain and confusion as to why the loss has happened and why it apparently cannot be controlled. Although it’s a close run thing, Clifford emerges as the slightly stronger performer although director Natalie Abrahami ensures that there is a consistency in style and delivery.

If the staged play is sometimes a little too self consciously filmic then equally there are some aspects of the film which reference theatrical practice. So, for instance, there are black and white sequences between the main scenes of the stage crew changing the set. For although everything has been recorded in one room, locations in the narrative are varied, including at one point a car park in IKEA. And that’s appropriate as much of the set seems to have been constructed out of cardboard packaging. The result is that it seems we are watching a late stage rehearsal although there’s probably an esoteric rationale behind all this that I’m somehow missing. Whatever the case, I wasn’t necessarily convinced.

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It’s just as well the script and acting are strong enough to carry the day, and they do. Inevitably most reviews mention Fleabag and although I’ve resisted thus far, I can see why. Quite apart from Clifford appearing in both and there being a lot of unspoken angst about the sudden death of a young woman (not to mention that the incidental music is composed by Isobel Waller-Bridge), there is something in Hayne’s sardonic writing style which is reminiscent of the TV programme. Although this isn’t oversold in Good Grief it is perhaps time to move on or next thing you know we’ll have Andrew Scott coming round to do some sexy priest consoling.

Good Grief  is available via the Original Theatre Company website –  click here

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