When Lorien Haynes first wrote Good Grief, it was, as is the case for most plays, intended for the physical stage. But, with a forty-five minute running time, it seems no-one was willing to ask audiences to make the trip to the theatre, until lockdown meant that nobody could get to a theatre and the ‘virtual playing space’ meant theatre could come to us.
Suddenly that short, sharp running time was perfect for something that the creative team call a hybrid between theatre and film. That’s a claim we’ve heard a lot over the past few months, but Good Grief comes close to fulfilling it; the cinematic camera angles balanced neatly with the intimate feel of a theatrical story.
There’s more to it though, a set that requires the same kind of imagination that is often required in a fringe theatre, a world where cardboard boxes can become cupboards. Between each scene there is a brief montage of the stage being set for the next scene; it reminds us we’re watching through the reflected lens of a camera, and, more painfully, that we’re doing so because of a pandemic.
Haynes’ poignant story is one of loss, but also one of moving on with life, and director, Natalie Abrahami has embraced that, while Isobel Waller-Bridge’s sound design captures the right mood without intruding on the grief.
Adam has lost the love of his life to some long lingering disease, and the play opens just after the wake has ended. It gives us the sense that Liv led quite an extraordinary, and perhaps unbelievable, life. Hearing this ongoing second-hand account of the deceased allows the audience to focus more on the pair left behind, Adam and Cat, a lover and a friend who, over the coming months, will support each other through the various stages of grief.
The play uses these stages as the foundation stones of its narrative, introducing each as slowly and unassumingly as they would occur in real life. The Adam character is well defined and we understand completely the emotional turmoil he faces. Cat is deliberately kept more ambiguous, and although there’s the odd clue planted here and there, it will ultimately be up to the audience to establish their own take.
BAFTA winning Sian Clifford doesn’t disappoint in the role of Cat, while Nikesh Patel’s heartbreakingly tender portrayal of Adam is enthralling. The chemistry between the pair is faultless and helps the audience identify with the pair from early on.
Beautifully written and delicately performed, Lorien Haynes brings us a fantastic piece of theatre. The virtual stage gives Good Grief the home that it couldn’t find pre-pandemic, but with a filmed production sure to turn heads, perhaps it can find a new home post-pandemic too.
Good Grief streams 15th February to 15th April 2021. Tickets are on sale here