Monday, April 22

Good Grief – Unity Theatre

A leg protrudes from a jagged gravestone adorned with neon pink ‘RIP’ lettering; a sort of Tracey Emin meets Anthony Gormley start to a frenetic, pumped-up and kinetic sixty minutes of clowning, slapstick, techno & recorded interview excerpts from Liverpool-based company Ugly Bucket,

Using minimal props and costume accoutrements, the best gift this youthful and award winning physical theatre company possess is a seeming electric current running through them; five bodies juddering, jumping, gyrating & jerking into life, but each with their own style and skill set – as they perform their terminally ill friend & mentor’s wish, a play about death for his memorial.

The show could have been macabre, intrusive and even offensive, but in Ugly Bucket’s hands, the show is energised, funny, occasionally thought provoking and definitely moving – most particularly in a segment where Christmas is brought forward to a sweltering summer by a family who know their loved one will not make it to the festive season.

The theme of death, dying & the aftermath links a myriad of actor-wordless scenes, often overlaid with taped oral reminiscence from interviewees, recounting personal stories of loss, grief and mourning.

In the past, the company has tackled post-graduate depression in ‘Bost-Uni Plues’, sexuality and sex in ‘2 Clowns 1 Cup’ & Covid in lockdown in ‘ABC (Anything but Covid)’ – and in this show, created by Rachael Smart and Grace Gallagher, and performed by Gallagher, Adam Baker, Angelina Cliff, Jessica Huckerby & Canice Ward, the cast clown about against a backdrop of snaggy tombstones and Duncan Gallagher’s pounding score.

The emotional stories of a variety of people are featured and enacted in physical & surreal ways; Frank, for example, describes how, a decade after his wife’s death, grief can still sweep him away when least expected, like a tidal wave – which is physically manifested. Another interviewee states that grief is like landing on another planet – so the company transform themselves into aliens, awkwardly trying to give succour to a grieving astronaut. When another interviewee talks about his time as an emergency doctor, dealing with terminal patients & their desperate relatives, the cast deliver a mimed-out scene in a hospital ward. 

And maybe this marriage of the silly, the sad & the surreal is what’s needed to explore such a potentially distressing and still taboo subject. The cast (literally) throw themselves into their work and deliver a punchy, energetic, emotional and always arresting spectacle about what unites and levels us all.

Reviewer: Tracy Ryan

Reviewed: 1st October 2021

North West End UK Rating: ★★★★