Grief – Mike Leigh

I am never deluded to think that when I watch a play that is in any way ‘real’ but conversely I want to be willed to believe. Full stop. I know they are actors, on a stage, but whatever happens during the play I want to be convinced and unquestioning of the play’s ‘reality’. I was compelled to watch ‘Grief’ at the Cottlesloe this evening. Characterisation was vivid and at no point did I not believe in their personalities or lose a sense of being convinced by their reactions. The play deals with the relationships between family members; the tense and unpredictable mother and daughter bond that is slowly dissolving, with the unending superficiality of the uncle and even more emotionally frigid ‘aunts’. This play captures cleverly the emotional restraint expected during the period where the work is set and we witness the crumbling restraint not only in the mother but in the daughter’s progressive withdrawal from life.

Throughout all the changing personalities the habits of the mother and her brother – nightly sherry and singing in unison – also erode until the final repeat of this ritual where the mother is not willing to partake in the singing. The changes – spanning over a year – are paced well and silence is used by the actors with aplomb to capture the intensity of the grief for the mother’s lost husband.

Naturalism can be wonderfully engaging and this play was certainly not without humour – particular from the aunts and the doctor. The overall structure descended to a rather powerful and suitably abrupt close. One is unable to be unmoved by the anguish of the mother and end left me rather fragile emotionally. The incidental music did something to colour the intensity and in no way attempted to capture the period in the way the emotional restraint – and dress and set – did with real skill.

This play certainly had stock characters and some behavioural stereotypes but they were essential for creating the grief and what makes this such a fascinating work is how little the grief is verbalised. Saving such verbalised references for poignant moments makes this a powerful play that wills one to partake in the grief more than one would have thought possible.

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