Jack Rooke Good Grief

It’s always a good start when you get offered sweets as you walk into a theatre. It’s less satisfying when you realise you can’t eat them and have to drop them into a coffin on the front of the stage. That is never really explained throughout the set. The coffin is though – none other than Hayley Cropper’s coffin from Coronation Street. As a northerner that show was an integral part of my childhood, so I was happy and filled with fond memories before the show even started.

Jack Rooke comes bounding onto stage, bright eyed and with a slightly crazed expression that reminds me of Bill Bailey. Maybe it’s just the crazy hair. By introducing his awkward-o-meter within the first few minutes of the show, Jack makes it clear that this set will address some less comfortable topics in his growing up. The audience straightaway get the sense that Jack is more than happy to revel in any awkward laughter that follows.

The show follows the premise of him as a teenager coping with the loss of his father and a number of bereavement related puns that result. The set is punctuated with some homely touches, some of which work and some of which don’t. The home videos of him speaking with his gran are endearing – gran is absolutely hilarious, with a sparkling dry wit and some cutting remarks. Passing round malt loaf and custard creams is slightly less effective. Jack relates the events of his past to certain foods – the idea is well intentioned but loses something in delivery. Breaking up a witty story to pass round food breaks the flow of what is, in the end, meant to be a comedy show. Some of the stories are funny; many are simultaneously heartbreaking. As an example, Jack takes my phone (since I’m on the front row and so in the firing line) during a story of him being drunk at a friend’s sixteenth birthday party. He fumbles with the touchscreen as he dials a number from memory to call a taxi and take him home. All too late, the audience outwardly groans as we all realise that the number is his late father’s. Jack has left him a number of voicemails over the months since his passing and cannot now leave any more, as his mother has finally had the number disconnected from the network. Even more awful is that, as I take my phone back, he makes me save that number into my contacts. I delete it straight after the show – that is simply too morbid.

Although at its heart a comedy show, this set does have a great overall message about getting people to talk more openly about grief and not feel it to be such a taboo topic. But the comedy needs to come through more; some topics are funny and some, try as Jack might, don’t currently seem to be amusing conversations. But then maybe that is exactly the stigma he is trying to overcome.

Good Grief plays at Underbelly Cowgate (venue 61) until 30 August as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. For more information, visit the Edinburgh Fringe website.