Right: Selena Kadell as June with “Sam”
By Keith Waterhouse
Directed by Cam Castles
Centenary Theatre Group
Chelmer Community Hall
Corner of Queenscroft and Halsbury Streets
Season runs until September 29. Duration: two hours 30 minutes including interval. Bookings: 0435 591 720 or www.centenarytheatre.com.au
Centenary Theatre Group has come up with another little gem of a play, one which needed, and got, a female actor with enough talent and power to deliver what is almost a two hour plus one woman show that sweeps through a minefield of emotions.
Good Grief is a gentle comedy and, like all good comedy, has a serious tale to tell. It was competently brought together by director Cam Castles.
Selina Kadell is formidable as June Pepper, second wife of recently deceased Fleet Street newspaper editor Sam Pepper. Sam was young, in his fifties when he succumbed to a life of late nights, bad food, unimaginable stress, and lots of alcohol.
We meet June when she returns home from a memorial service and from then in a series of 19 short scenes we learn of her anguish, her ups and downs in life as she chats, amiably for most of the time, bitterly sometimes, sadly at others, to the invisible Sam, using the audience as a conduit.
There is a large photograph of Sam that sits prominently on the all of his study. We learn a lot about him too as the play progresses. I have been a journalist all my life and get annoyed so often at the stereotyped characters on stage. But this time I loved the portrayal. I know the man! And for all his faults, I felt rather sorry for him as secrets emerged
The portrait turns out to be a clever focal point in the play; it’s not just a photo but an electronic one that changes colour with June’s mood, brightening and darkening too.
The plot involves June’s battle to adjust, giving away Sam’s clothes to Oxfam, organising the collecting of Sam’s huge collection of books – as well as dealing with her step-daughter Pauline, Eric, a seemingly nasty piece of work who was her husband’s colleague and Duggie or The Suit, as June calls him - a man who bought Sam’s favourite suit from the Oxfam shop.
These characters pop in and out of June’s life as do the numerous bottles of vodka she drinks to numb the pain.
Selina Kadell brought a lot of feeling into her role and the audience was well attuned to her moods and was in full sympathy when she recalled her embarrassment in a posh restaurant when she booked a table for one.
Another prime time was June’s drunk scene. Drunkenness is not easy to perform, but Kadell nailed her scene brilliantly. She carried just the perfect amount of self-righteous indignation and lack of body control.
June’s step-daughter Pauline was cool to her step mother, but tried to look after her in a strangely protective way, like hiding the vodka bottle, making her tea and meals. It is obvious there is some bad feeling and resentment boiling underneath, but sympathy too.
Simone-Maree Dixon played Pauline beautifully, with controlled anger, frustration and yet a need to help her late father’s widow. She is an excellent actor and I remember her well as the flirty maid Nancy in Steve Martin’s The Underpants.
Paul McGibbon was the slimy and resentful Eric who enjoyed every minute of his teasing with a set of mysterious letters found at work in Sam’s desk.
Guy Smith was Duggie and played the not quite nice, slightly sleazy would-be comforter for June with a nice fake sincerity – but his Oxfam suit was one of the ugliest I’ve ever seen. I’m sure it was used for comedy effects, but honestly no self-respecting journalist I ever knew would wear such an atrocity!
Finally young Liam Castles played the pub barman who popped in and out of the action. He didn’t have any lines, but was very present in his scenes without being intrusive. I loved his work as he stood folding paper napkins when June and Duggie chatted.
Centenary’s Good Grief provided a rewarding night at the theatre.