Pros: Hilarious and intelligent writing, with a lot of realism underlying the comedy.
Cons: Cruel lack of legroom in the seating plan.
The glamour of the Noël Coward Theatre is undeniable. With nearby neighbours like The Garrick, the Coliseum, and The Duke of York’s, nowhere else in London do I feel so immersed in ‘theatreland’. Visually stunning, the light bulb trim of the porch transforms the classical façade of the building into a Hollywood star’s dressing room mirror, and walking over the threshold you feel you are entering their world of stardom.
Far removed from the glamour that the venue inspires however, Good People focuses on a group of individuals in Southie, the hometown of author David Lindsay-Abaire, and a neighbourhood in South Boston with a mixed reputation for honest hard-working people, and trouble making hoodlums. My only previous understanding of Southie came from the film Good Will Hunting, and like that film this play reveals the dark and light sides of living in an underprivileged district with few or no ‘ways out’.
The central characters of the play represent what it means to get out and what it means to stay. Imelda Staunton plays a single mother, Margie, struggling to pay the rent and care for her disabled grown up daughter. The result is a sharp, caring and sincere performance. Her ex-boyfriend Mike, played by Lloyd Owen, is the one that escaped, went to university and is now living in a beautiful home, working as a doctor, and failing to stay faithful to his beautiful, well-educated wife.
This play gives real comedy value along with some truly poignant moments. I laughed out loud on multiple occasions, as opposed to the silent laugh, which is a genuine response but more of a sign of intellectual appreciation than humour, and certainly not as enjoyable. Further credit to writer David Lindsay-Abaire is due for the fact that I didn’t detect any political or class bias: this was an honest portrayal of two different sorts of living, not a crusade for the misunderstood or misrepresented. When Mike and Margie are reunited after years of separation the social and cultural differences exposed by their conversation are both shocking and darkly funny. The confrontation takes place primarily at Mike’s house, a sophisticated set worthy of Grand Designs and Home and Country. I wish I had a house as nice as that fake one.
Angela Coulby is an utterly perfect parody of the middle class wife – the perfect hostess and an expert on cheese, wine and marriage counselling. It is in this expertly directed living room scene that Staunton, Owen and Coulby excel in performance, with tension, humour and drama in abundance. Written with remarkable intelligence, Mike and his wife are not demonised and it never feels like they should apologise for their good fortune. Similarly, Margie doesn’t come across as the ‘bad’ person, despite her rather pushy intrusion; she’s just a woman after a job, after a chance, after some luck.
Margie’s real fight isn’t with Mike, or with the middle class; it’s with the idea of choice. In one of many heart-rending moments Maggie grieves the thought that whatever she could have done, however she had played things with Mike, she would never have got out of Southie. The loss of agency, of that control over her own destiny is what breaks her, and it’s one of the most startling revelations in a play that was moving, smart, funny and honest.
If I had to offer a negative point to the evening, I’d say that Sprague, the architect of the theatre, was clearly more sympathetic to the idea of making money than creating legroom. Renovations have taken place in the last decade, and the Louis XVI interior is voluptuous, but I’m tall so then I’m always going to moan. Maybe people were smaller at the turn of the 20th Century?
Author: David Lindsay-Abaire
Director: Jonathan Kent
Associate Producers: James Quaife Productions, 1001 Nights Productions
Designer: Hildegard Bechtler
Lighting Designer: Mark Henderson
Sound Designer: Paul Groothius
Box Office: 0844 482 5141
Booking Link: https://tickets.delfontmackintosh.co.uk/index.asp?ShoID=1526
Booking Until: 14th June 2014