If it weren’t for the visual stimuli, telling your brain that you just entered a theatre, you might have assumed that you’d just crashed a wake. There’s a coffin, a funeral flower arrangement and an unmanned microphone, waiting, as if a tearful rendition of W. H. Auden’s Funeral Blues is imminent.
Initial appearances are deceptive however. A closer inspection reveals that the coffin is full of sugary junk food, and the flower arrangement spells out “good grief.” Jack Rooke bursts onto the stage, throwing out jokes like a stand up comedian. This definitely isn’t a wake, but it is about death. “One in one people will eventually die” Jack wryly tells us. Death is a part of life, and Jack’s story of his Dad’s untimely death side steps well trodden narratives and leads us down an alternative path. It is a personal exploration of death and bereavement, with comedic charm, and a little help from video interviews with his Nan, Sicely.
Jack introduces us to his invisible awkward-o-meter, a gauge he cleverly uses to instantly lighten the tone when talking about the multiple bereavements he has been through, and when detailing the numerous ways in which the people around him struggled to respond. Comments for the sake of themselves, an overwhelming influx of well intended lasagne, and even ineffectual professionals, whose farts provided more substance than their counselling skills. Without his delicately balanced humour, the events alone would begin to sound a bit like a grim tale in Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, but in Jack’s hands humour prevails in even the darkest of situations.
His bereavement process consisted of orchestrated crying stints in his school disabled toilet, which as he demonstrates in video footage, was as if ergonomically designed fit for such a purpose, complete with comfortable seating, next to an infinite tissue supply, and a leaning bar for when the burden of grief weighs heavy on the limbs. He also coped through comfort eating. By conveying it all in such a frank, personable manner he gives us a realistic portrait of grief.
Especially poignant are the video interviews with Sicely, interwoven throughout. She discusses how her husband, that is, the father of Jack’s Dad, didn’t talk about how he felt during his time of great loss, losing his own son. It was only later, when he developed dementia that he began to speak about him more frequently, a comfort to Sicely, who felt content knowing that he still thought about him. This segment insightfully touches on something that chiefly affects men. After all, grief is emotion, and in a culture that favours the suppression of male displays of emotion, it follows that men often struggle with achieving catharsis through communication, falling into the trap of the stiff upper lip. With this show, Jack is breaking the mould.
GOOD GRIEF! Jack Rooke manages to flip the phrase on its head, with a one-man monologue and a deft use of video footage. Over the course of an hour he delivers a cathartic, humorous expression of his own grief, and offers a salve to everyone watching, and food. Literal food. Expect communal soreen and custard creams. Go.