Grief by Mike Leigh review, Cambridge Arts Theatre

THIS play, listed in the Cambridge Arts Theatre brochure for months as "A New Play by Mike Leigh" could have been called Still Life (if the title had not already been taken), because at times it is more like a painting than a play - we see so much emotional detail.

It could have been called Repression. But in the end, Grief is a perfect title. At the close, for a moment, the audience was too stunned to applaud.

Lesley Manville is magnificent as Dorothy, the war widow locked forever in her loss. The point about grief is that you can't move on from it and the 1950s must have been the worst time to have it - the dolour of that decade lasted at least until 1970.

It was a time of pretence - pretending to be respectable, pretending to be happy, pretending not to be riven in two.

Dorothy and her detached brother Edwin (played excellently by Sam Kelly) convey a whole world of grief when they whisper "chin chin" as they sip their evening sherry and then beautifully but mournfully sing songs that were supposed to lift spirits during the war.

Dorothy has been left to bring up a daughter who becomes a recalcitrant teenager when they really were misunderstood, before they became fashionable. ..and before parents grouped together to form a Resistance. Her daughter is all she has and the sole focus of her attention - and that for her daughter is terrible.

Ruby Bentall is perfect as the girl unable to become a young woman - suppressed by her mother's stultifying grief, herself unable to understand her anger. They are magnetic in the tension they create between them.

A perfect balance and welcome humour is provided by the immaculate Marion Bailey and Wendy Nottingham as Dorothy's friends, Gertrude and Muriel. We learn they were all GPO girls. Dorothy wasn't always so downcast. She was a lark when she was "headset number 44". And David Horovitch is good fun as the jolly doctor friend Hugh: "All's well that ends!" Sadly, the grief never does.

Great care has been taken to evoke the period and not just in the excellent set. The cast has the accent of the period off to a tee. This is a brave play. It is stupendously done by a flawless company of actors and very true. So much grief at a period when all that was prescribed to so many was a stiff upper lip would have to have its payback. It is a look back in sorrow.