THE TRANSATLANTIC MAGAZINE
The film-play hybrid has become increasingly prevalent in these Covid times. Last May we reviewed Platform Presents’ online live theatrical production, over Zoom, of Tom Stoppard’s one acter A Separate Peace, starring David Morrissey. That was broadcast as a one-off and was a triumph. They’ve now collaborated with Finite Films on this film-play of Lorien Haynes’s romantic comedy Good Grief.
It follows the story of bright 30somethings Adam and Cat who are coping with the recent death from cancer of their best friend and partner Liv. Like the genre here, the couplings are also non-binary.
It brings together two charismatic actors Sian Clifford and Nikesh Patel. Clifford is the BAFTA winner and Emmy nominee who became a global phenomenon as Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s uptight sister Claire in Fleabag. And indeed, the other Waller-Bridge, Phoebe’s sister Isobel, provides the music and sound design for this. Less well known, but certainly going places, is Nikesh Patel, who viewers might recognise from Artemis Fowl and Indian Summers.
The piece was first workshopped in New York in 2016 and Haynes has converted it to a two-hander here. It was filmed in just two days in a studio adhering to all Covid protocols and, interestingly, was rehearsed via Zoom.
Theatre director Natalie Abrahami, who came to fame running the Gate Theatre in Notting Hill, frames the piece with some Brechtian touches, like b&w scenes of the crew setting up the single performance space on which each of the scenes plays out. Her camera direction though is wonderfully sensitive, coming into its own on the intimate close-ups between the lovers which singles this out as a piece for the screen. Over the course of seven short domestic scenes Haynes’ play presents the various stages of grief. Over this tight 45 minutes this really stretches the actors, who need to tread a fine line throughout between the romantic comedy stylings and the darker undercurrents. Despite the best efforts of these two, both at the top of their game, the writing doesn’t have the stomach punch it needs. Perhaps it’s been over-truncated and needs more time with these characters to properly draw us in.
Anyone who has been through a close bereavement will learn that grief is a journey not an event. It has many tributaries and catches you out when you least expect it. You get none of that here, and the relationships seem brittle and unconvincing.
The British way of handling grief (one of the worst) is touched on but the human cost of that (“I promised I wouldn’t..”) and that disdain for public displays of emotion is never properly explored. In the end, despite the best intentions, it comes across as rather trite. It would be great, with these actors, to have the piece expanded so it could take us deeper inside, and this might in fact transform it.