Thoughtful, delicate and sincere, Mike Leigh’s Grief quietly reverberates with beauty, and revels in a haunting clarity.
A satisfyingly considered set welcomes you into the theatre, which creates a sense of life beyond the seams of the stage, thanks to a living-room door revealing a beautifully lit hallway and stairs. One couldn’t help feeling George Kan was inviting us not to simply observe, but to peek past the thin curtain of a suburban 1950s house. The uneventful stillness is the power of this play – you feel not as though you are being told a story, but as though you are watching it unfold organically, breathing before you, inhaling joviality one moment and exhaling gritty reality the next.
Bea Svistunenko’s Dorothy creates excellent moments of contemplation, whilst remaining dedicated to the detail of the generation she is portraying. Character eccentricities are developed by the entire cast, each with their own ticks and traits, but never stifle the emotional weight of the play.
Raphael Wakefield’s Uncle Edwin seemed about to crumble at every movement, and Eve Delaney’s teenage Victoria exuded an air of frustrated indifference which is evidence of her skill in acting beyond the script. Light throughout, silences dominate the drama, with the exception of two friends who, again so accurately for that conflicted generation, seemed to melt the silence with an immediate firestorm of words each time they invaded this private glass house.
The pauses are perhaps the most pleasing detail, elegantly stilted to distil either humour or the stillness of grief – a grief which is jarringly absent, referenced only in vague passing. The title inevitably leaves you searching for the cause; one perfectly balanced scene reveals Edwin’s realisation that, despite everything, he is little more than a nameless cog in the apparently aimless machine of life.
The unnecessary appearance of a stage manager between scenes, the difficulty in assessing the age of Hugh, who posed a conundrum to the audience until the script did the work, and the fact that all the actors lost their beautifully designed characters at each scene change detracted from the coherence of the piece and broke the spell otherwise so thoughtfully woven.
Yet from costume to on-set trinkets, elegant lighting to perfectly pitched silences, Grief is a quiet and studied play, contemplating an absent grief, that is past, suspended, and quietly anticipated.
In the words of one character, ‘Sometimes that’s the best thing, isn’t it – silence and solitude.’