Theatre

Good Grief

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Posted on 27th September 2012

Good Grief

Theatre Royal, Bath

The role of grieving widow June is perfectly suited to Penelope Keith, who delivers her wry observations on life, death and funerals with acerbic wit and a gently nuanced progression through loss to a new beginning. She could even be Margo from the old 70s TV sitcom The Good Life pronouncing on long-suffering hubby Jerry’s demise– if only Jerry had died a self-indulgent, alcoholic tabloid hack.

But this play, based on the late tabloid hack Keith Waterhouse’s novel Crisis, What Crisis, has little of the good life about it.

June discovers firstly that being a widow is not much fun, and ultimately that the husband she loved was actually a selfish manipulative bounder. The moment of this discovery is the point at which anger frees her from his control, issued not from the grave, but from the urn.

The dead husband has told her to keep a diary after his death to help her through the days, although he didn’t say it was to be in writing. So she talks to him, railing against his choice of song and poem at the memorial, getting sloshed, using a naughty word and trying to get laid, all the while talking to him as though he was indeed not dead but in the next room..

Booze and mint chocolate Aero keep her going – and then The Suit, once owned by her husband, now to be found on the back of a chap she follows into the Duke of Clarence for a half of Pale Ale.  What follows is a series of vignettes – some of which are funnier than others - designed to chart the stages of grieving.

Christopher Ravenscroft is rather good as The Suit, a bit of a loser who latches on to June and fleeces her for a red van. But the dynamic between them is never quite believable enough for what ensues – there’s a lengthy sketch in which he describes how to change a fridge door from left to right opening with all the boring tedium of watching paint dry.

The action picks up during the second act when skeletons come tumbling out of the cupboard. Then Penelope Keith’s portrayal of June rising from her grief in righteous anger is both finely played and extremely moving.

But the whole production seems just a tad dated and the jokes a bit flat.

While Jonathan Firth plays Eric, the sleazy tabloid scribe, to odious perfection, and Flora Montgomery is creditable as the self-centred abandoned daughter Pauline, it is Penelope Keith’s performance that holds the whole together.

Good Grief offers an evening of quiet fun that owes much to the delight of watching a performance by Penelope Keith.

It runs until Saturday September 29.  Call the theatre on 01225 448844 or visit www.theatreroyal.org.uk for times and tickets.

Jackie Chappell

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