Good Grief

… balance between humour and a profound long-covered-up frozen grief

By Edwin Preece
Swallows Theatre
Directed by Sue Goble

Un-named Mother (Sue Goble) and her two grown children Sam (Sam Standen) and Becky (Gigi Liley) meet for – a celebration? A wake? A long delayed start to the natural grieving process? There’s champagne and an expensive meal out, but two people are missing. Anthony and Dad should be here, but for a long ago accident that froze the family’s emotional growth for years. Today, things will start to change.

The story of that long ago accident is told by the three characters piecing together fragmented memories, sometimes talking to us through inner thoughts and filtered memories, and sometimes to each other.

The staging’s a little static – it’s a small space with little room to manouevre, which is always a directing challenge. We begin with Mum seated, and later the family round the table on a stage at the same level as most of the audience, so it’s difficult to see the actors, which can then reduce that essential audience/actor engagement.

Preece’s writing captures that buttoned-up family habit of keeping everything pleasant, anything to avoid feeling sad. Being messy. The credible result is that the family’s grief has never been journeyed through, never dealt with.

Every word crystal clear, with a uniformly polite, measured delivery, I understood every nuance – yet didn’t quite feel that suspension of disbelief that this was happening in front of me, that the words were igniting in the characters’ minds at that moment. Several ‘breaking down’ moments could be rethought – it’s always more engaging and moving when the character controls and speaks through emotion.

There are laughs here, too – family silliness and little foibles we can all recognise and feel connected with. That balance between humour and a profound long-covered-up frozen grief strikes a chord with this full house, as the thaw begins.

Current run now ended.

Philippa Hammond