Home Theatre, Manchester; Thursday 18th May, 2017
With a quiet and solemn dignity, the audience respectfully passed by Jack Rooke’s funereal set and took their seats. On stage lay two tasteful and elegantly constructed wreaths, spelling out the words “Good Grief”. Nearby lay a small coffin, clad in pristine white cotton.
Some sauntered in still sipping their drinks, instantly looking a little bit awkward at the realisation that they’d turned up to a funeral with a pint in their hands. How rude. But then, suddenly, all the natural nervousness at being in the presence of a coffin quickly disappeared because, sticking out of the top it were …….. two tubs of Pringles.
Jack Rooke says he was born on the very night that UKIP was formed in the early 1990s, potentially making him some sort of spawn of evil. This could have been enough to coax the check-shirted, skinny-jeaned hipsters in the audience to storm the stage and drag him off. But thankfully he quickly talked his way out of it, mainly due to his charmingly friendly demeanour and also his beaming pride at also sharing his birthday with legendary children’s TV presenter Andi Peters. And he admits that he looks like Jonathan Creek. Plus, he bought snacks!
Good Grief is a mixture of two wildly contrasting experiences. Jack gives a very personal and moving analysis of the circumstances surrounding his father and grandmother’s deaths and fearlessly admits to the powerful impact that the events had on him. Every single one of us knows that these issues are coming to stalk us one day, if they haven’t done so already.
But the sadness of the subject matter does have a viable antidote: comedy. Jack helpfully began by explaining that he’d provide hand signals in order to create a useful awkward-ometer – so that the audience could more easily understand when it’s ok to laugh and when it’s ok to be sad. The coffin was revealed to contain a stash of bereavement comfort foods: lots of cakes, biscuits, apple pies, and many other things it’s ok to scoff when you’re grieving.
The performance was a mixture of well-scripted storytelling interspersed with some occasional stand-up improvisation and lots of audience participation. Delivered with a comfortable and personal touch by a performer making no attempt to hide the pain he’d suffered, the hour just flew by.
At the end, most of the women in the audience seemed to shed a tear and said that they really loved the way that he made it so emotional but also so funny as well. The men just said they were fine and thought the show was ok. Hardened behaviours may not have been changed but Rooke demonstrates that he might just have found himself in a very special performance niche as Britain’s top Awkwardness Smasher.