Good Grief review – tender film-play hybrid hits home

Original Theatre; available online
Sian Clifford and Nikesh Patel rehearsed for two days on Zoom before being filmed in a studio in Lorien Haynes’s impressively naturalistic bereavement story

Nikesh Patel and Sian Clifford in Good Grief.
Freewheeling… Nikesh Patel and Sian Clifford in Good Grief. Photograph: TBA
Freewheeling… Nikesh Patel and Sian Clifford in Good Grief. Photograph: TBA
Susannah Clapp
Sun 14 Feb 2021 05.30 EST

Sorrow is in the air. This is a tender time to watch a play about loss and the patching up of lives. Good Grief, Lorien Haynes’s acute new two-hander, looks at the heightened awareness that follows bereavement, charting the months after the death of a young woman, when her boyfriend and her best friend learn to cope, together and apart. Sian Clifford – familiar as Fleabag’s sister and the wife of the coughing major in Quiz – is taut, lapped by hysteria. Nikesh Patel – Foaly in Artemis Fowl – bubbles with sadness and anxiety. Subtle and volatile, they sob and snipe – and freewheel wildly.

Director Natalie Abrahami is among those helping to give online drama a new assurance. Good Grief is light years away from the Zoom plays of last spring; nor is it a capture of a live stage play. A conscious hybrid – rehearsed in two days on Zoom, filmed in a studio – it sets out to combine the immediacy of the stage with the intimacy afforded by film. Forty-five minutes slip by with an easy naturalism that would be hard to match on stage: no one wants to sit in the dress circle unable to hear actors mumbling their lines through a mouthful of food.

Yet theatricality and artifice are frequently underlined. Black-and-white sequences at the opening and between scenes show the crew setting up cameras. Scenery is minimal, sometimes parodically rough: a cardboard box is labelled “cupboard”. Crucially, dialogue drives the plot. Haynes’s script does not bellow, but nor is it underwritten. It is another blend: casual and highly wrought; throwaway closeup. “Nothing says thank you like a bit of vag,” drawls Clifford at the wake. Grief is not simply about feeling sad, after all: it involves piecing things together, looking with startled alertness at what we have taken for granted.

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