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The Umbrella Organisation

The Umbrella Organisation

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Grief, a new play by Mike Leigh, National Theatre
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rakspatel wrote in mycroft_brolly


I saw this over a fortnight ago but I saw it on the same day as I saw St Matthew Passion, and I REALLY wanted to write that up. Then I saw The Kitchen and I REALLY wanted to write that up. Anyway, I can now get round to talking about this (I think the fact that I was not that bothered about writing it up will give you a hint as to how I feel about it!). It will be worth the wait, however, because in the interim I have also attended the Mike Leigh Platform (talk) on this, where he talked about his new play.

Grief is a very detailed portrait of domestic life in the 50s, with the focus squarely on the lives of women. So you really get to experience what it was like, on a day to day basis, being a housewife in the 50s - what you would have been thinking and what you would have been doing. It is also - as it names suggests - a study of Grief. The interesting aspect of this for me was the relationship women had at that time with their female friends. You can tell that this piece has been painstakingly researched and that every detail is correct.

However, for me, I thought the piece was mind-numbingly boring. It was difficult to sit through 2 hours of someone's daily life - Big Brother on stage without the personalities. The characters were "English" - as in stiff upper lip and repressed, so the acting is all in what they are not saying rather than what they are. I have no problems with plays set in the home - The Holy Rosenbergs was set entirely in the home. But I like plays that have meat to them and make me think. I like plays about issues (history, social justice, politics, just SOMETHING!). All this play made me think was ... I am glad I was not a Englishwoman living in the 50s - I would have died of boredom!

Yes the play packs a punch at the end - but it is not worth sitting through two hours of tedium just for that. In fact, I thought that the most heart-breaking moment was not right at the end, but when the brother returns home after retiring from the office job that he has been doing for 45 years. He is not given a proper send-off and it broke his heart. He is also thinking - exactly what am I supposed to be doing now? Work was what I did. What do I do now? Where is my value in society? That scene where he returns home quite broke my heart and, for me, upstages the shock ending.

In summary, I did not like this and I will not be promoting it or recommending it to anyone (bar a particular friend, who is very interested in the detail of women's domestic lives in the post-war period!).

However, if others think differently about this play, please feel free to speak up!

The four new plays on in the Paintframe over the Summer were quality writing and genius. They all made you think. Take this off and put them on instead!

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I didn't like it either.

I sat for two hours, (no interval, and I was in the first row so I couldn't get up and leave), thinking "Get me out of here! Get me out of here!"

I could see it was well acted and even well written, but it was the most depressing thing I have ever seen at the theatre, and completely uninspiring.

"I could see it was well acted, but it was the most depressing thing I have ever seen at the theatre, and completely uninspiring." You have summed up in one line what I felt about the play! You are a way better reviewer than me!

I can't even agee it was well written. Writing, for me, is about telling stories that people can engage with and want to hear. This story was so dull and boring it really was not worth telling!

Obviously I haven't endured the play first hand, but I do imagine that being a British housewife in the 1950s must've been mind-numbingly boring for intelligent women. My own mother certainly thought so, bucked convention, and carved out a career for herself as soon as her children were into school. Maybe she would have related to the play in a way that we younger generations who have had more choices simply cannot? We won't shut up and put up the way women used to have to. Good thing too! But perhaps we need to be reminded of how far we have come...? Or maybe after all it was just a totally dull piece of drama. Pity.

I agree with you!

I am going to say something controversial here - it won't matter as it is just the three of us!

Gender studies. Women have so many choices in today's world. They can have a career if that is what they want. They can be a wife and a mother if that is what they want. They can mix the two - admitedly their career will suffer but it is perfectly possible to have a good career and carve out time for your family - many of my friends can and do. Women can also have a lot of fun - if you want to and if you choose to. Men do not have the same choices - their primary focus is still expected to be their work and it takes real guts to be a house husband (although I do know a couple). So what are women complaining about? We are very lucky and I think we should acknowledge that and be thankful for it, instead of whingeing on about glass ceilings etc.

That should set the cat amongst the pigeons!

By the way, good on your mother for being a pioneer!

Edited at 2011-10-20 02:25 pm (UTC)

This is such a massive topic. And alas, for many women today, even in this country, there is still no choice at all. We are lucky if we have had good education, have or had well-paid jobs, been able to acquire assets, be independent, have options, decide whether or not to conceive a child and with whom... Yes, very lucky.

My mother was a pioneer... up to the point when she refused promotion rather than earn more than my father. She judged it wrong to 'emasculate' him by overtaking him in the workplace. They were both teachers, so it was a very direct comparison. I salute her for her sensitivity.

My own stance as a wife was to become a subversive who refused to play the superwoman game. I decided that in order to be a mother, my career would have to go bung. It's been a deeply unfashionable stance, but nobody is telling me what I ought to do, or if they are I'm not listening! I expect choice. I have been fortunate, did not have my kids early, so have had choice. If I wanted to retrain tomorrow, I could do so. Since the pension age for women is like a mirage that keeps moving further and further away, there's probably still time to test that glass ceiling... :-))

Choices. I agree. Only the well to do and the privileged have real choice. If you are poor and unenfranchised, choice is a luxury that you cannot afford.

I admire your mother's decision and I understand and empathise with what she did. She is better than me. Forgoing a promotion is not something I would ever do! But it relates back to Wreckers - if you really love someone you will do anything for them. Your mother did what she did so that your father could keep his dignity. I admire and respect that.

I also admire, respect and support your decision. Maybe if more women and men did the same - prioritise their children over their career - we would not have young people rioting in the streets. Maybe that is true, maybe not. I do not think that what you have done is unfashionable - I think what you did is what many women want to do and feel that they should do, but they succumb to other external pressures, especially from their peers.

With the pension age continuously on the rise, I fully expect you to return to the workplace sometime soon and have a full second career ahead of you!


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