It’s something that I suspect that theatre will address more over the coming years and decades, sometimes obliquely but also more directly. These things take time to seep into the creative consciousness.
Lorien Haynes’ Good Grief lands at an interesting time, and avoids being over obvious or potentially crass by dealing not with grief in the wake of a Coronavirus loss, but with the loss of a friend, Liv, who has died from cancer after seven years of living with the disease. What happens to those left behind when a young person dies? When is it right to start moving on, or is there a guilt associated with that? Can friendship ever survive a long terminal illness?
Haynes’ script covers a lot of ground as it follows Adam (Nikesh Patel) and Cat (Sian Clifford)-- the first the dead Liv’s former partner, the other her best friend-- as they negotiate life without the woman they both loved. Over the months their own relationship has to be negotiated too.
Nikesh Patel and Sian Clifford
The script has moments of real sparkiness, and there is a brutal truthfulness in the way that Adam and Cat both cling to each other and push each other away, and also admit to conflicted feelings about Liv, particularly in her final illness. There is some sly humour too. When Adam is set up with Joanna, whose husband has recently died, he can’t help observing that their individual losses are very different. His Liv died after a long, gruelling illness; Joanna’s husband got to the top of a peak before a fatal climbing accident. “He was happy and then he fell off,” says Adam bitterly.
Haynes has set herself a difficult task in trying to create a romantic comedy out of such material, and there are some tonal uncertainties. Natalie Abrahami’s production also doesn’t always quite justify the interesting decision to eschew something more filmic in favour of something more stagey. It means we have to imagine that a cardboard box is an understairs cupboard or that two chairs are a vehicle in the IKEA carpark. In a theatre these leaps of the imagination happen naturally; viewed through a screen they sometimes seem clunky, like a 1970s Play for Today.
Clifford brings a spikey charm to the role of Cat. Patel has less to work with for the character of Adam but makes you feel his confusion and grief. At its best, Good Grief reminds that loss is snotty and awkward, comic and often raging, not the soft-focus tragedy the movies often would have us believe.
Good Grief will be available online from Mon 15 Feb - Thu 15 Apr. You can find tickets here.