Good Grief, Edinburgh Festival Fringe

by Laura Kressly

When one of their friends died, theatre company Ugly Bucket navigated their grief the only way they knew how – by making a show. Using clowning and physical comedy, an ensemble of five flit between a dying man and his family, an afterlife of jagged pink gravestones where they playact a life cycle, various ways people die and depictions of people dealing with death. It’s both funny and immensely sad, as well as a sophisticated reflection on how we process loss and our own mortality.

The company (Adam Nicholls, Angelina Cliff, Canice Ward, Grace Gallagher and Jessica Huckerby) are exemplary physical performers relying on facial expression and exaggerated movements to communicate their various characters and responses to each other. Mask and costume helps too, such as a brief scene where a swimmer is killed by a rather jolly and determined shark. This quick montage of death scenes is an effective warm-up early on in the show before it shifts into more serious material. Most moving is the family of a dying person celebrating Christmas in summer because they are not expected to last that long. The struggle to be cheerful in the summer’s heat whilst wearing goofy Christmas hats, and knowing their loved one won’t be there come December, contrasts well with the jokier material and prompts sniffles and tears from the audience.

There is also light use of verbatim testimony from real experiences with death and grief. Whilst this isn’t strictly a verbatim play, it also effectively complements the clowns who only speak in a language of sounds and bits of words. Including both shows that sometimes language can sufficiently express how we feel but at other times, movement and noise are more suitable.

On the whole, the production prompts a lot of big feelings. Reflection on our own inevitable demise, those we’ve lost and how we deal with that grief rumble around as well as the big, belly laughs resulting from the show’s comedy. It’s a fantastic piece of work that is healing, joyous and bold.

Good Grief runs through 28 August.

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