I didn’t think I’d be spending my Saturday night laughing about death, but Good Grief promised a comedy about loss and they delivered a performance above and beyond anything I expected. Certainly, there were tears too, but this original production by Liverpool-based Ugly Bucket Theatre managed to tread the line between trivialising loss and dwelling too much in sadness. Instead, grief was explored through dance, the paranormal, and a sprinkle of disorder to create a rollicking, thoughtful and uplifting performance all at once.
Fashioned into being as the last wish of their late friend, Tim Miles, Good Grief was created to be performed at his memorial and Ugly Bucket took the idea and made it their own in a way only they can. The audience first meet the talented cast of five (Adam Nicholls, Angelina Cliff, Canice Ward, Grace Gallagher and Jessica Huckerby) through an entertaining and energetic routine of one man (Nicholls) coming back to life from behind his gravestone. From here, jaunty dance moves and seamless coordination set the tone for the show as vivid scenes are created in which everyone can find a piece of themselves or someone they know.
As the audience is catapulted around from aliens to how alienating grief can be, the energy of the cast remains palpable. Every single moment is enrapturing and to the theme of techno music the performance is as mesmerising as it is entertaining. From the off, the comic twists land and somehow make light of things usually conveyed in a more overcast mood. It is testament to the brilliant cast and innovative direction of Rachel Smart and Grace Gallagher that Ugly Bucket are able to make death and grief feel so accessible while creating a sense of belonging throughout the show. From a laugh-a-minute to touching upon the sheer magnitude of loss and the capacity for hope, this performance captures all the emotions in one enchanting swoop.
But talking about death is difficult. Instead, Ugly Bucket spend most of the show communicating to the audience through quirky sounds and dance, using a plethora of vivid body contortions and physicality to convey different stories. Well-used minimal props help define scenes and allow the focus to remain on the actors so as not to detract from the important discussions throughout. Meanwhile, impressive lighting effects contribute to the depth of the performance and pave the way for scenes that range from personifying human cells (you really feel the rage of that tumour) to providing a platform for indulging in the sweep of emotions that loneliness can bring.
Moments of grounding amidst the chaos occur through the overlaying of recordings of people expressing their own stories of grief. These true testaments are tender and accompanied by a lowering of the lights, giving space for the words to linger with the audience. Here, Ugly Bucket capture small moments of humanity with astonishing gravity. Ultraviolet lighting seeks to draw on these words that are written around the set becoming apparent intermittently, adding subtle hidden touches to the performance.
At its heart, Good Grief is a beautiful production that leaves you torn between the heights of joy and the depths of heartbreak. But where it deploys deft humour to discuss the tragic, it expertly opens the door on the complex, multi-faceted reality of grief, allowing room for personal stories and reminding the audience that any emotion surrounding death is valid. Small plots become part of a much bigger picture entwining into a collage of poetic, extraordinary and downright wacky scenes, from the relatable to the bizarre. It is a poignant exploration of humanity and understanding, and I wanted to stay seated and watch it all over again.