The Theatreguide.London Review
In March 2020 the covid-19 epidemic
forced the closure of all British theatres. Some companies adapted
by putting archive recordings of past productions online, others
by streaming new shows. Until things return to normal we review
the experience of watching live theatre onscreen.
PlatformPresents.com February 2021
Written and produced for online performance in lockdown conditions, Lorien Haynes's one-hour play/film tells a conventional story in almost completely conventional terms. But it is that 'almost' that is its greatest achievement.
The play's strongest moments come when it repeatedly flirts with cliché and then backs off at the last moment, taking its insights and characterisations into fresh and convincing new directions.
A young woman has died after a long battle with cancer, and her lover (Nikesh Patel) and best friend (Sian Clifford) grieve. Having told you that, I can predict that at least one of the next two things I'm going to say entered your mind, with a touch of dread at their obviousness.
The two are going to end up in bed together, and a letter written by the dead woman will surface.
Both do happen, with painful predictability, but it is in what doesn't happen next that the play becomes most original and most convincingly realistic.
The survivors fall into bed uncertain whether they're being driven by lust, loneliness or shared grief – and they get up again no clearer than before. Nothing is magically clarified by the encounter, as a more convention-trapped writer would have had it, and the two continue their journeys of slow recovery from grief much as before.
And the letter the sick woman wrote just before her death, to be given them when they most needed it, is predictably warm, wise and funny – and it, too, doesn't really change anything.
Playwright Haynes may not have been able to avoid cliché altogether, but does insist on a realism that fights the conventional roads to what would have been a falsely happy ending.
Those two big surprises – that plot elements designed to make things magically better do not – may help us to appreciate other, smaller ways in which the playwright insisted on a realism that violated convention. It may jar the first time the two survivors, in the mist of their grief, lapse into passing in-jokes or ritualised teasing, but then we realise that is exactly what old friends would do.
When they finally reach the stage of packing up the dead woman's clothes, the friend's brief and instantly regretted flash of annoyance that he's picked the wrong charity to give them to rings absolutely true. And it may be blackly comical but is also completely believable that in that clearing-away scene the woman spots a pair of shoes she wants to keep for herself.
Director Natalie Abrahami and her actors prove their sensitivity to the material by realising the significance of small moments like those and non-moments like the too-easy reactions they do not let their characters have. Good Grief is a play that transcends convention through what doesn't happen even more than by what does.
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