Grud – Hampstead Theatre, London

Reviewer: Scott Matthewman

Writer: Sarah Power

Director: Jaz Woodcock-Stewart

Aicha is thrilled when Bo turns up to the college’s “space club”. For a start, it doubles the membership. The almost instant friendship is tempered only by Aicha’s manic, geeky energy being returned in the form of a locked-down, introverted response from Bo.

In Sarah Power’s occasionally unflinching Grud, Catherine Ashdown as Bo initially delivers a monotonic, almost soporific performance. But soon, it becomes clear that Bo has had a lifetime of having to hide away, emotionally at least. Bo has a monster living at home: Grud, the “monster name” she has for her alcoholic father.

Karl Theobald’s Grud is drawn with the subtlety of personal knowledge, presenting a father who clearly loves his daughter even when the allure of drink is too strong. In just one scene in the piece, he is sober and in control, tidying up the detritus in which he typically lives. He also seems supportive of the attraction Bo feels towards Aicha (Kadiesha Belgrave). More often, his quest for drinking makes him self-destructive and, although never violent towards his daughter, he is still highly aggressive and out of control around her. Occasionally pathetic, sometimes pitiable, Theobald infuses Grud with enough positive traits to make one believe that a daughter could stay with him throughout all the more overwhelmingly negative ones.

Belgrave is much the opposite, usually a bundle of talkative energy who struggles to fit in with the rest of the college despite all her quirky charisma. Her Aicha – loudly clever but awed by the more substantial intellect of the quieter Bo – gets the lion’s share of Power’s occasionally laugh-out-loud moments.

Between Belgrave’s larger-than-life characterisation of Aicha and the studied, layered qualities of Theobald’s alcoholic father, the quiet and emotionless quality of Ashdown’s delivery often feels like it risks getting subsumed, that the character is a reactive sponge to the mess going on around her. In many plays, that would be an unintentional flaw; here, it feels like a believable interpretation of a young woman who fears that she may also have the same monster inside her that inhabits her father.

Most of us will never have to deal with being in a single-parent family where the onus of responsibility falls on the child because the adult’s addiction renders them incapable. Grud gives us insight into that life: it’s not devoid of humour and love, but those are things for which Bo must look elsewhere to receive them unconditionally and consistently.

The play is bookended with a video that zooms out from an English locale to a view of the world and then beyond the edges of our galaxy. As Bo notes, it would be easy to use that to dismiss her problems as minor compared to the size of the universe. But Grud shows us it’s the opposite. In comparison to space, we are all huge and important.

Continues until 3 August 2024

The Reviews Hub Score

Unflinching view of addiction

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The Reviews Hub - London

The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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