Review: 'tis unmanly grief

4 star rating
Wonderfully well-acted and superbly directed, this pithy and profound play makes us consider how we can deal with grief and support others trying to cope with unbearable loss.
'tis unmanly grief at Theatre N16

Image: Theatre N16

Theatre: Theatre N16

Closes here: Saturday 16 December 2017

Tim Crowther

Tim Crowther


Aaron Anthony

Damien Hasson

Natasha Pring


Everyone deals with grief differently, but when Tom returns home with the corpse of his father, denial takes on a whole new meaning.

As the body decomposes and Tom retreats further from reality, Katie conceals her recent news of pregnancy and embarks on her first trimester alone.

ActDrop reviews

Peter Brown

Performance date: Wednesday 6 December 2017
Review star rating image for 3 stars

Grief, brought on through the death of a lover, friend, colleague or relative is one of the hardest things for humans to bear.

And it's not just the loss of the individual which causes suffering and pain.

Losing my friend, for example, can change my lifestyle in ways that may only be apparent after some time.

Grief is something we're not trained for, or taught very much about either at school or by our parents, and for the most part we all struggle, or maybe muddle through grief as best we can, largely without effective and meaningful support.

For some people, that's an excruciatingly painful and sometimes self-destructive process.

Moreover, we don't get much in the way of theatrical drama that allows us to consider how we humans can, or should deal with grief.

So Tim Crowther's play is a timely and welcome venture, even if it's not an easy play to fully comprehend and at first sight seems odd, unrealistic and, for some people possibly, a bit dotty.

'tis unmanly grief at Theatre N16

Image: (c) Andreas Grieger

The basic idea is audaciously simple, astute and enormously powerful - Tom is grieving after the death of his father and decides to dig-up his Dad's corpse and bring it home so he can be near it/ him.

Now, if you're tempted to think that the play may go a little too far in the realism department for comfort, you don't need to worry - the corpse is represented by a simple, but life-size stick man drawn on paper.

Actually, that is also a very clever device - it's not that a lifelike corpse could not have been fashioned, but that it is representational and not, at least in my view, meant to be realistic.

Similarly, the reactions of Tom's wife are not meant to be completely realistic either, but a metaphor for her inability to cope with her spouse's enduring grief.

In fact, she has the means to distract him as she has discovered she is having their first child.

But she avoids telling him about the impending arrival of new life.

In a way, she's complicit in exacerbating and pandering to her husband's grief, though she also tries to get him to simply shut it away by stuffing the corpse in a freezer.

Others are also complicit - a delivery man helps Tom to move the corpse into the freezer without question, and an unknown figure (representing society, perhaps, and played by Aaron Anthony) assists Tom throughout the play by handing him drinks, moving around furniture and so on.

You may feel that the basic proposition here - digging up a corpse to be near it - is ludicrous.

However, it would be a serious mistake to write this play off as simply odd, or even potty nonsense, because it turns out to be a provocative work that tackles a little-discussed subject head-on.

Directing his own work with considerable aplomb and immensely thoughtful panache Tim Crowther, in a very real sense, uses shock tactics to get us to 'wake up' about this issue.

That is a perfectly sound dramatic ploy which forces us to examine the roles of spouses, society, rituals and all that goes with the matter of coping with grief.

Mr Crowther is ably supported in his work by both a very fine cast and excellent design skills from Deborah Bowness.

There's a real sense of desperate vulnerability in Damien Hasson's sensitive and moving portrayal of Tom - a man who simply doesn't know what to do about the overwhelming sense of loss his father's death has brought him.

He breaks down at times unable to function, but we also see him cheerfully wolfing-down cereal, as though nothing is wrong - a sign that grief is not continual, but comes in unbearable waves that intrude into our daily lives, overpowering us one minute and dissipating the next.

Natasha Pring provides excellent support as Tom's teary-eyed but ineffectual wife who, in the end, can only resort to separation as a means to escape her own unendurable situation.

Wonderfully well-acted and superbly directed, this pithy and profound play utilises a novel approach to make us consider how we can deal with grief and support others trying to cope with unbearable loss.

Not to everyone's taste, maybe, but 'tis unmanly grief is nonetheless a potent piece and highly recommended.

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