Keith Waterhouse, who died in 2009, was one of Fleet Street’s most prolific wordsmiths, his newspapers columns as celebrated as the famous novel, Billy Liar, that made his name.
His best known work for the stage is the coruscating, and hilarious, Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell, which celebrated the low life and times of fellow Fleet Street legend, booze- soaked scribbler, Jeffrey Bernard.
But those coming along to Good Grief, expecting a script of the same high calibre will be in of something of a disappointment here.
Which doesn’t mean that there aren’t still plenty of good lines to savour in this revival of Waterhouse’s stage adaptation of his owns novel. There are. Just not enough to lift the play beyond the realm of extended sitcom, with the result that this is minor Waterhouse fare.
The plot focuses on June Pepper ,(Penelope Keith), the wife of a tabloid newspaper editor who has recently died.
Memorial service done and dusted, to cope with her grief June has decided to follow her dying husband’s suggestion that she keep a diary when he’s gone in order to let all her emotions out, and move on her with life.
However, rather than write her feelings down, her diary consists of on-going conversations with her dead hubby that allow the fourth wall to be broken, and at the same time provide a running commentary on the emotions driving the action along.
This consists mainly of June meeting up occasionally in the pub with Christopher Ravenscroft’s divorced bachelor Dougie, aka “The Suit”, who she befriended after spotting him wearing her husband’s suit in the street, (she donated it to Oxfam).
That, and having to take in step-daughter Pauline, (Flora Montgomery), with whom she has an uneasy relationship. She also has to contend with Jonathan Firth’s annoying night editor who seems intent on bringing a mystery to her door in the form of a clutch of letters left behind in his former boss’s locker. When the truth behind them comes, it has to be said, it carries little dramatic weight.
Keith played June in the original 1998 stage production, and she is in fine form here, displaying all the comic timing and charm that made her a household name in hit TV comedies The Good Life and To The Manor Born. And there’s a certain naughty frisson in hearing her use the F-word during the first act.
But in terms of getting under the skin of the grieving process, as well as the tools required to move on, Waterhouse’s script about loss, entertaining as it is, never quite reaches the emotional depths it hopes to plumb and relies on farce and comic wit to skirt over that fact.
Also the first thing Director Tom Littler should do is set about tackling the clunky, stuttering set changes throughout that mar what pace the production has. *Good Grief, King’s Theatre, Edinburgh until Sat. Tel: 0131 529