Kings Theatre, Edinburgh
3 stars Death clearly becomes Penelope Keith. Onstage, at least, that is. The last time everyone's favourite cut-glass matriarch appeared on the Kings Theatre stage she played a vicar's widow in Richard Everett's play, Entertaining Angels. This time out, Keith plays the widow of Sam, a tabloid newspaper editor in Keith Waterhouse's stage version of his comic novel. Keith first played June in 1998, when Good Grief played the West End a year after the novel was published. Fourteen years on, and three years after his own passing, Waterhouse's play now looks at times like he was penning an elegy for himself. Keith is cast wonderfully against type as June Pepper, a hard-drinking northern lass who we first meet at home following Sam's funeral. Having promised him that she'd keep a diary of her thoughts following his demise, June's scribblings here become upstage asides. These become a form of therapy for June as she navigates her way between Pauline, the insecure daughter of Sam and his first wife, Sam's sleazy night editor, Eric, and The Suit, a gentleman scrounger who June meets in the local pub. Waterhouse was always a better writer than he was a dramatist, and Keith delivers June's monologues with a deadly dryness in Tom Littler's touring revival for the Theatre Royal, Bath. There are some pithy observations on the ageing singleton's lot and how the bereaved can cling to memories. Any poignancy relayed over a bundle of rediscovered letters, however, is over-ridden by the ending's sudden lurch into 1970s trousers-down farce. Even with such inconsistencies, to hear Keith swear with such common or garden gusto was a refreshingly shocking treat.
The Herald, October 4th 2012 ends