My mother came to visit recently and needed to be entertained on a full-time basis, like sugar-addled toddler during half-term. So, when countless hours of shopping and museums were exhausted, it was decided we should go to the theatre. I’m no fan of musicals, which thankfully scuppered most of the initial suggestions. Thankfully, Guildford has the Yvonne Arnaud theatre and the production they had on starred Penelope Keith, who my mother has loved since the 1970s when she played Margo Leadbetter in the sitcom The Good Life. The play itself, Good Grief, was pretty much secondary to this.
Adapted by Waterhouse from his own comic novel, Good Grief tells the story of a recently bereaved widow who unexpectedly finds herself drawn to another man, for no reason other than that he is wearing one of her dead husband’s suits, which she had given to charity. The relationship between ‘the suit’, the widow and her interfering step-daughter quickly unravels. All this is pseudo-narrated by the widow, as she diarises her thoughts to her dead husband.
I’ll be blunt: At it’s best, Good Grief was mildly humourous banality. At it’s worst, it was tiresome, predictable, outdated, poorly acted codswallop. And yes, I’m counting ‘national treasure’ Penelope Keith in amongst that. She seemed content to phone in her acting while struggling to maintain a rough semblance of a Lancashire accent, fluffing her lines and mistiming jokes. Inexcusable, considering she’s been playing this role off and on since 1998.
The lighting was poorly done, the set change music didn’t fit the time period that seemed to be so slavishly adhered to the rest of the time and, worst of all, the comedy timing of the dialogue was totally off.
The audience, mostly people in their sixties, seemed to enjoy it and I think the production was aimed squarely at them. Nobody was blown away or enthralled, and perhaps none of them wanted to be. They wanted to see Penelope Keith in some mildly humourous banality. And they got exactly that and no more.