ComedyPulse FestivalReviewSouth EastSpoken Word

PULSE FESTIVAL: Good Grief – New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich

Writer and Performer: Jack Rooke
Director: Gabriel Bisset-Smith
Reviewer: Paul Couch

Grief affects us all in different ways. Of course, many people follow the traditional linear path of denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance, but these stages are by no means set in stone. Many, like Jack Rooke, jump straight to the end two.

When he was 15 and in the middle of his GCSEs, he tells us, Rooke’s cabbie father died from cancer. It’s a sad tale but perhaps not one moving enough to base an entire show on. Instead, Rooke takes us on a whistle-stop tour of his family and how Rooke Sr’s untimely death affected them, from his Malapropistic mum (“I’m not racist but…I don’t like them enchiladas!”), to his nan, a down-to-earth Londoner who regards her middle-aged son’s premature passing and her husband’s worsening dementia with the kind of wistful pragmatism that comes with advanced age.

Good Grief is great fun but tends to be a little meandering and fails to take a promised swipe at Government cuts to widowed parents allowances. The fact that he was also struggling with his sexuality around the time of his dad’s death gets barely a mention. Instead, we’re given family snapshots, cake and biscuits – food is clearly important to Rooke as an emotional crutch – but even this is glossed over in favour of familial reminiscences, which give the piece a somewhat self-indulgent feel. Of course, we sympathise with anyone who has lost a loved one at an early age, but all we can take away from Good Grief is that teenage boys take no prisoners when it comes to emotional blackmail. The death of a close family member is ripe for exploitation.

Jack Rooke is an engaging performer with a mop of corkscrew red hair and a kind of hangdog expression that vanishes when he smiles, which he does a lot. He has great vocal projection and so it’s odd that, for no apparent reason, he retreats behind a mic stand for segments of the show. Rooke has a warm, everyman persona that is hard not to become endeared with, but the show itself seems to lack direction and purpose. There’s another, much more compelling work just under the surface.

Reviewed on 7 June 2017 | Image: Contributed  |  @pulseipswich #pulse17

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