Kicking off at the end of a particularly boozy and pizza-fuelled wake, then time-skipping over the months of post-funeral aftermath, Good Grief charts the stuttering relationship of Adam and Cat as they deal with the loss of a partner and a best friend respectively. The complex history of our protagonists ostensibly follows (if you read the marketing blurb) Kübler-Ross’s five stages of grief, but at its heart is much more about the guilt this surviving couple feel when they realise they love each other. How would their circle of friends react if it became public knowledge Adam and Cat were now more than just friends themselves? Even discovery by the despised Fiona – for whom they both hold contempt writ large on a chalkboard in Adam’s flat – is enough to potentially thwart chances that they may find happiness together.
Navigates the thorny subjects of grief, shame and regret whilst injecting humour that never sounds glib
The piece was filmed in a single room, which unapologetically looks like an undecorated and windowless office. It serves variously as Adam’s flat, Cat’s kitchen and a “shitty” hotel bedroom the couple share a night in while in Manchester. This format is an intriguing take on the restrictions 2020 forced upon live performance. Director Natalie Abrahami and Production Designer Natalie Pryce deliberately eschew the norms of film for theatrical tropes that could easily be described as a new genre – a novel mash-up of cinema and stage. A cardboard box self-identifies as a cupboard; foldaway chairs a vehicle in an Ikea car park and scene changes that reveal the room resets in fast-forward black-and-white sequences. For an audience used to watching theatre, it’s at turns both familiar and clever. I don’t know whether seeing the reflection of the whole production crew in Cat’s shiny gold cycle helmet was deliberate – but somehow in the framing of this production, even that works.
Lorien Haynes’ dialogue is beautifully poetic and keenly observed. Unseen characters such as recently-departed Liv become three dimensional in the sharp-witted conversations between Adam and Cat. The mundane discussion of gluten-free bread mix only adds realism to our heroes in snappy naturalistic quips. Of course the material is only as good as its delivery, for which Nikesh Patel (Adam) and Sian Clifford (Cat) must be congratulated. Both navigate the thorny subjects of grief, shame and regret whilst injecting humour that never sounds glib.
Being film, there are some creatives us theatre critics don’t normally get to namecheck, so I’m glad this first opportunity is praise-worthy. Cinematographer Emma Dalesman keeps her aperture wide open to focus our attention on these characters in a shallow depth of field, and handheld camerawork makes you feel like a voyeur in the room. Fin Oates’ editing is unobtrusive but in scenes such as Adam fending off Fiona’s pity-casserole, technically brilliant. Completing this trio is Isobel Waller-Bridge whose haunting soundtrack heightens emotions with simple piano chords, such as Liv’s posthumous letter to Adam.
Good Grief was never going to be a raucous comedy, but as a production gives us a glimpse of what is possible even when a global pandemic conspires to suppress creativity, plus gives us some intelligent laughs along the way.