‘Tis Unmanly Grief Review

Theatre N16 – until 16 December.  Reviewed by Claire Roderick


Theatre N16’s last production at The Bedford is a boldly absurd and unsettling look at the impact of grief. Tom’s father has died, and Tom isn’t coping too well, so he digs up Dad and brings him home. Tom’s wife Katie finds out that she’s pregnant, but can’t bring herself to tell Tom once she’s seen Dad sitting in his armchair. As Dad slowly decomposes, the couple’s relationship rots as well, with Katie turning to drink to deal with Tom’s increasingly unhinged and obsessive behaviour.

Tim Crowther’s script is brisk and clipped, echoing Tom’s difficulties in expressing and dealing with his grief, with Tom’s sentences becoming increasingly unfinished, and Katie moving between ranting pleas for sanity and speechless horror as she watches Tom’s withdraw from reality. The dark humour plays well as visitors react to Dad’s presence with varying levels of acceptance, and the use of a large stickman drawing to represent the corpse is a neat touch, especially when Tom carries it around the stage with such care and reverence.

Deborah Bowness’s design – flat images of bath and bed on the floor and wall – lands to the cartoonish detachment from reality, along with Aaron Anthony’s ever watching presence as The Figure – part narrator, part stagehand – switching between multiple roles as visitors whose repeated, useless advice to “Hang in there, Tom” contrasts with Katie’s attempts to help Tom actually deal with his grief. The blackout between scenes become a little tedious, but add to the disjointed atmosphere of the story.

Natasha Pring is excellent as Katie, nailing her growing despair and helplessness; Damian Hasson tackles the difficult role of Tom with great energy. Keeping him just about sympathetic even in his most selfishly destructive moments, Hasson is particularly moving in the scenes where he acts out idyllic childhood scenes with his father’s corpse.

The play ends in a miasma of buzzing flies, with nothing resolved – which is appropriate for a story about an issue that is still not discussed enough and is not an easy fix. Dramatically though, it feels unfinished and abrupt, and a little disappointing for a play that begins with such promise.