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Grave Goods

Anne Neville
Disordered Speech
24:7 Theatre Festival, Midland Hotel, Manchester
(2007)

Grave Goods

A one-act play set in a cemetery may not be everyone's idea of fun, but Anne Neville has a good ear for the laughter which can so often come from sorrow. Grave Goods addresses a question which anyone who has ever been bereaved will recognise - what function does the grave serve for the living?

The play opens promisingly. Phyllis (Jeni Howarth-Williams) sits in a camping chair, reading the week's premiership results to her (deceased) husband. We learn that she comes to the grave every week to update him on City's progress, before leaving him the Evening News. Their - her - conversation seems the stuff of everyday marriage and Phyllis seems almost to enjoy her trips to the cemetery. It is only later that we learn, with a jolt, that Phyllis got used to this long ago - her husband had Alzheimer's and stopped being able to talk back to her years before his death. Phyllis is joined at the graveside by Jean (Jane Leffman), newly-widowed and concealing her double pain at the yellow flowers sent to the funeral by her husband's lover. Soon after, teenage Zoe (Rachel Priest) arrives with the remains of a makeshift roadside shrine to her friend Amy, killed in a car crash. Julie (Claire Lever), visiting her grandma's grave, completes the graveside community.

Grave Goods has its strengths. The gentle comedy which underlies Phyllis's posthumous relationship with her husband, and the poignancy of Zoe's journey from grief to a realisation that her friend would want life to go on are keenly observed and beautifully played (particularly by Priest, who is clearly a local talent to watch). There is far too much exposition, however, particularly in the sections dealing with Jean's betrayal by her husband, and far too little dramatic development. There is little attempt to connect the characters or give them personal journeys, so that the relationships between them seem little more than linking devices and, essentially, nothing really happens. Good as Neville's ear is, the inherent lack of dramatic development means that Grave Goods fails to live up to the promise of its opening scene. The audience leaves touched by the emotion but unmoved by the drama of the piece.

Reviewer: Louise Hill