Lifting its title from a line in Hamlet, and also focusing on the increasingly alarming behaviour of a young man mourning his father’s death, Tim Crowther’s new three-hander is a blackly amusing, squeamishly absurdist examination of grief and its merciless cruelty.
Tom’s Dad is dead, but Tom (Damien Hasson, wiry and weird) isn’t coping very well at all. He’s exhumed his dad’s decaying body and propped it up in an armchair in his flat, to the frustration of his secretly pregnant wife Katie (Natasha Pring, increasingly exasperated) and the bemusement and concern of friends and visitors (all played by the quietly multi-roling Aaron Anthony).
Over 90 minutes, as Tom ferries his dad’s corpse – actually an enormous stickman sketch – from armchair to chest freezer and back, Crowther attempts to probe the dark recesses of his disturbed mind in a series of short, elliptical scenes. His dialogue is Pinter-esque, with a dash of Martin McDonagh humour, but it often stretches for a fashionable detachment it can’t quite capture.
Crowther’s production – he directs as well – smartly evokes an atmosphere of gradual decay, progressing to a relentless orchestra of feasting flies, but it’s also a bit clumsy, and receives little help from Deborah Bowness’ open-plan set.
‘Tis Unmanly Grief is Theatre N16’s final show at its second home above Balham’s the Bedford. It’s a flawed piece that struggles to draw drama out of a compellingly crazy premise, but it’s also an apt conclusion to this chapter of N16’s story: boldly experimental, unafraid of failure.