Good Grief

HOME Theatre, Manchester; Thursday 11th November, 2021

Just keep doing what you’re doing, and erm, don’t let the non-backers get you down. Keep developing it, keep doing it. Don’t be afraid to ask. Say yes to every venue. Every audience. See what happens.

In 2019, faced with a terminal diagnosis to his illness, university lecturer Tim Miles asked Ugly Bucket Theatre to make a ten-minute performance piece for his own memorial service.

A couple of years and a pandemic interruption later, Ugly Bucket have transformed their original commission into a full-blown, nationwide tour: Good Grief is a raucous hour of dance, mime, song; and plenty of general clowning around.

Comicality drives this show from the start – the cast of five deliver visual amusement with their classical, theatrical face painting and silly costumery. The physical performance is pure slapstick: plenty of rolling around, tripping up, jumping on top of each other.

The show is mostly formed of surreal sketches, abstract and loosely defined, nicely in keeping with the jocular optics of it all. What we see are various stages of grief, various moments of grief, various scenarios where grief has taken hold.

But deep down, we know something serious is lurking behind the face paint, behind the theatre of it all.

That challenge to the humour comes in the form of narration, delivered via audio recordings where various interviewees describe their very personal experiences – even including a doctor who laments the toll of only ever being the bearer of the worst possible news that any person could ever expect to hear.

Hence we see the presented grief take many forms, contextualised in many scenarios and impacting to various extents. One remarkable feature of this show is the lack of spoken word from the on-stage performers. There is plenty of oooh, aaah, erm, hmmm – but they otherwise seem to deliberately refuse to eloquently vocalise, they never speak properly.

At the time it was perfectly in keeping with the mute clown themery, but in hindsight this materialises as a form of expression in itself – specifically of the debilitating power that sadness can possess, perhaps?

The sound of sobs from the audience throughout the performance are testament not just to what grief and loss can do but also to how much power this particular show carries.

So much about Good Grief is beautiful: the lighting; the score; the choreography; but most ingenious seems to be the set – on first impressions it appears relatively simple yet it carries a wonderful surprise which is only really fully appreciated when everything culminates in a brilliantly choreographed ending.

Good Grief could’ve been a worthy but ultimately despondent journey into a sad and difficult subject matter. But somehow, Ugly Bucket have managed to make an hour of doleful sadness come together and make sense – this feels like a really important achievement, there is definitely some kind of closure, which is really pleasing.

There is no doubt that this show will touch a raw nerve if you have one hidden away. But despite this, Good Grief is undeniably yet another in a long line of successful theatre productions that satisfactorily and pleasingly defeats the villainy of insurmountable grief with just the right kind and amount of well-positioned and elegantly-delivered humour.

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