Review: Good Grief (Platform Presents, online)
Lorien Haynes' play is filmed and available online
Never let it be said that there isn't an occasional silver lining to the clouds under which theatre is currently operating. Lorien Haynes' 45-minute play might never have made it to a conventional stage, because of its short running time. But here it is, online, in a digital production rehearsed via Zoom and then filmed under safe conditions, a little shaft of new thought to illuminate the gloom.
The barebones nature of the thing is deliberately evident in Platform Presents' production, made in collaboration with Finite Films. It's shot in one room and between the scenes there's black and white footage of the crew setting up. But the casting of Sian Clifford (sister Claire in Fleabag) and Nikesh Patel (of Artemis Fowl fame) and the direction of Natalie Abrahami turn a Reliant Robin into a Rolls Royce. This is an insightful piece, played to perfection.
They are Cat and Adam, respectively best friend and partner of Lulu, who has died. We first meet them in February, clearing up the kitchen after a particularly messy wake, when their grief is so raw and transparent that they can barely cope. When he drapes Lulu's coat around her shoulders because she is cold, she cannot bear it. She physically winces, her face crumbling in tears. "I'm going to put it back in the sad room," he apologises.
Through their conversations over a period of months – the final scene is set in October – we fill in the background. Lulu has died after seven years of cancer treatment; she was wild, funny and promiscuous, a contrast with strait-laced Adam. She didn't die surrounded by their love but alone having quarrelled with them both. Things between them are not simple either: they squabble in the car park of Ikea and disagree violently over what should be written on her memorial.
Haynes is drawing on the personal experience of losing a close friend and it shows in the messiness of the emotions she depicts. Feelings surrounding death, particularly of one so young, are not tidied up in neat parcels. The script is shot through with sharp lines. The scene in the car park describes Ikea trolleys as being "full of meatballs and hopes"; at another moment Adam asks Cat to accompany him on a work trip to Manchester because "I haven't actually gone beyond a five-mile radius of Liv."
There's a brutal honesty at work particularly in the early scenes, about the way people simply don't know how to behave or to react when someone they love dies. I was less convinced by the gear shift in the middle, which takes us into more familiar romantic comedy territory, and feels rushed. But Clifford and Patel continue to find truthfulness in their portrayals, mining the humour but also superbly conveying the hurt, confusion and sheer misery of loss.