Originally a comic novel by Keith Waterhouse, Waterhouse himself has turned Good Grief into a stage show, perfectly capturing and balancing poignancy and humour. Produced by Theatre Royal Bath productions, Good Grief, which is touring, certainly has you uttering these exact words throughout the play.
As the gauze lifts and the house lights fade, we are welcomed into the world of feisty June Pepper (Penelope Keith). A series of monologues to her deceased husband, Sam, the show is completely centered around June’s turmoil and self-destruction. Like diary entries, June speaks directly to Sam as if he were still in the room, but uses us, her audience, as her point of contact. We become Sam peering in on June’s life, welcome to watch as she makes mistakes and chaos unfolds. We see her highs and lows including her collapsed drunk on the floor swigging from a bottle of vodka. The heartache Keith portrays within June is remarkably realistic, yet each and every sentence or phrase always contains a soupçon of humour. The plot sees June dealing with her step-daughter Pauline (Flora Montgomery), confronting a rather obnoxious Eric (Jonathon Firth), her husband’s work colleague, but most importantly, getting over her husband with The Suit (Christopher Ravenscroft) a man who bought Sam’s favourite suit from an Oxfam shop. You can guess what almost happens.
At first glance the set seemed poorly constructed. There was something not right about it and about ten minutes into the piece, it finally clicked, there was a large gap separating the wall on the left hand side between the doorframe and the stairs. The gap in the wall seemed to go straight up through the entire set, including the banister. Suddenly, before this gap became too annoying, the set started to separate, with the stairs sliding to the right, revealing a pub couch and table. This was a great scene change (although still a bit clunky at times and becoming a bit repetitive by the end of the play). Simon Kenny’s set design was clearly well-thought-out and, although simplistic to look out, very well crafted. The set, paired with Tim Mascall’s lighting design, was delightful. The realism created through the minute details of the set and light designs was incredible. It was these small details that really brought you into the play, and Kenny and Mascall should be commended for their designs. Tom Litter’s direction was quite remarkable. To watch a play where the direction is so realistic was a breath of fresh air, it was so cleverly hidden with the characters, the set and lighting that Littler accomplished an authenticity throughout the entire production.
It must be said that although the play was well-executed and enjoyable, the ending was a huge let down. It felt very rushed and the actual plot seemed rather daft and unrealistic. It was clear that Waterhouse was trying to set the audience up, to think that June in her chaotic state had made a rash decision and therefore put herself out of pocket by almost £2,500. Waterhouse led you to believe that the friend she’d made in The Suit was about to run away with her money. However, Waterhouse, quite cleverly, twisted the ending, which was perfectly fine and exciting. However, because the twist was so distinctively poor, unbelievable and actually quite ludicrous – which was mainly due to the other characters in the play not being as well-developed within the writing – it overshadowed how great the show had been up until this point.
It would have been nice to see more about the relationships between characters and is the reason behind why the ending was so bizarre and impractical. For those who have ever lost a partner, Good Grief throws some humour on the subject, looking at how society treats you differently, how you pick up on small comments and become easily offended. For others it gives an insight into the turmoil of losing someone, but that isn’t to be mistaken to thinking that this is a sad, sympathetic, soppy play. Keith’s character is riddled with humour, masking the heartache of our loveable protagonist June Pepper.
Good Grief is playing at Richmond Theatre until the 13 October. To book tickets visit the Richmond Theatre Website.