Good People review - April 2014

Gritty and at times painful to watch, Good People raises some real sociological questions

David Lindsay-Abaire’s Tony Award winning play, Good People, is a sad insight into the life of those living on the breadline, compared with the lives of those who “made good.” I am usually one for escapist theatre, but having read a deluge of news articles recently about just how many people are living below the breadline in “First World” countries, the play really raised some interesting questions for me. Centering around the notion of nature vs nurture and labour vs luck, Lindsay-Abaire really makes the audience ponder exactly what makes “good people.

Acting veteran Imelda Staunton plays pauper protagonist, Margie, a down on her luck single mother who struggles to hold down her job due to the difficulty of looking after her disabled daughter, Joyce. After getting the sack from a dollar store, Margie meets with her friends Dottie and Jean (expertly portrayed by Susan Brown and Lorraine Ashbourne) and together they agree that she should visit an ex boyfriend, Mike, who has made good working as a doctor in the city.

Jonathan Kent’s direction truly highlights the humour and tension of Lindsay-Abaire’s text and the cast fulfil the juxtaposition in moods with genuine prowess. For example the high tension, high comedy “bingo” scene, a working class enjoyment, is contrasted with the “cheese and wine” scene of act two, which conversely depicts middle class living. As Margie stepped out of her comfort zone into higher class trappings, I was on the edge of my seat with anticipation, expecting her to be like a bull in a china shop. I wasn’t exactly wrong…

It’s hard to believe that, with only six actors in the whole piece, the show is so full. The level of excellence in which all performances were delivered makes it very easy to see why this show transferred from the Hampstead Theatre. Staunton is absolutely on form as Margie and it is easy to see why she is such a highly awarded performer…I suspected she could at least bag an Olivier nomination for her flawless performance in this piece.

What I liked most about this play is that it hammers home that point that actually, there is no such thing as “good people.” Life is not as black and white as “good” and “bad,” there are no fairytale prices or villains. The show makes it impossible to support either Margie or Mike, who are both revealed to have made some very questionable life decisions. Good People expresses the unavoidability of being judged by those decisions. And that is life. And it sucks. Never a bigger portion of cold hard truth has been served to me at the theatre before and whilst it might be hard to stomach, I found the plays honesty commendable.

No, Good People is not the sunshine and lollipops performance of a good number of West End shows. It is gritty and at times painful to watch. However if you, like myself, enjoy well written, well directed and well performed new theatre that raises some real sociological questions, then this show is definitely one to watch.

Good People Imelda Staunton Review
15 April 2014, Noel Coward Theatre