Good People

Theatre, Drama
3 out of 5 stars
4 out of 5 stars
(2user reviews)
 (© Manuel Harlan)
© Manuel HarlanImelda Staunton (Margaret) and Matthew Barker (Stevie)
 (© Manuel Harlan)
© Manuel HarlanLloyd Owen (Mike)
 (© Manuel Harlan)
© Manuel HarlanAngel Coulby (Kate)
 (© Manuel Harlan)
© Manuel HarlanMatthew Barker (Stevie)
 (© Manuel Harlan)
© Manuel HarlanSusan Brown (Dottie)

I’m not sure whether this is good irony, bad irony or not actually ironic, but it’s at least notable that the West End production of ‘The Full Monty’ – which closed for somewhat mysterious reasons – has been replaced by another comedy about a working class northerner who loses their job and turns to unconventional means to get by.

In most other respects David Lindsay-Abaire’s ‘Good People’, which transfers from Hampstead Theatre, is quite different. The ‘north’ it’s set in is Massachusetts, the social issues it touches upon often feel specifically America, and in general Jonathan Kent’s caustic, stripped down production is less of an obvious crowdpleaser than the late ‘Monty’.

But it’s got one thing its predecessor lacked: a big performance from a star name. Imelda Staunton is unmitigatedly wonderful as Margaret, a messy, motormouthed Bostonian single mother who knocks back second chances like bottles of Sam Adams.

She’s put everything on the line except her pride for her disabled daughter, and her close-knit Boston community loves her for it. But she can’t turn up to work on time to save her life, her stubborn sense of honour has become self-defeating, and after she loses her job, her good friend and landlady Jean (Susan Brown, amusingly horrible) makes it clear that she will have zero qualms in booting Margaret out if she can’t make rent.

It’s Margaret looking for help from an old friend, Lloyd Owen’s street-kid-made-good Mike, that provides the story with its direction, the cruel contrast in their lives a jumping off point for Lindsay-Abaire to probe the divisions in ‘classless’ America.

Staunton is wonderful: loveable, frustrating and hilarious, with her working-class New England Irish accent nailed down. The rest of the cast are strong too, and Kent directs confidently, but it’s missing a certain something – its zippy two-hour runtime feels short of one truly great scene, there are some pretty clunky revelations in the second half, and one can’t help but feel that Bruce Norris’s ‘Clybourne Park’  trod similar territory with more guts.  But Staunton gives it the edge over ‘Monty’ – this is one underdog tale that deserves to make it all the way.

By: Andrzej Lukowski


Average User Rating

4 / 5

Rating Breakdown

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2 people listening

Good People explores the culture of underclass life in the historically Irish immigrant neighborhood South Boston, Southie- sometimes to the point of caricature. From the dollar store to the bingo hall, the string of dead end jobs, the son who returned from the Iraq with half his face blown off, the pregnant mother caught shoplifting a thanksgiving turkey- life in Southie is presented as a litany of underclass suffering. And Margie (played with impeccable timing by Imelda Staunton), fired from the dollar store in the first scene due to the inability to secure reliable care for her disabled adult daughter, has had more than her fair share.

The title of the play is used several times to refer to Mikey, the Southie boy who has managed to achieve the middle class dream of a house in Chestnut Hill with several trees in the yard and a beautiful young (African American) wife. This house is where the second half of the play takes place, the scene of a sometimes explosive conversation between three people. 

The play is mostly what you hope for: some great lines, some big ideas about social class (including an abbreviated attempt to address racism). However, I'm left with the feeling that the script plays it too safe. None of the characters are changed by the end. Mikey is simply a melodramatically selfish baddie while Margie shuffles back to Southie with a heart of gold and a bleak future.

The fact that this show has not received 5-star raves from every critic is absolutely insane. This is the most searing indictment of the class system since Shaw, and in many ways is better than Shaw in that it focuses on painfully real people rather than stock characters and is just as witty.

SPOILER ALERT: John clearly missed the big reveal that the kid actually IS his, thus the entire play didn't make sense to him.

This was about an extraordinarily strong, albeit flawed woman who soldiers on - a funnier Mother Courage. I don't understand how John found anything redeeming in Mike and nothing redeeming in Margie...An incredible role for women (all 4 female roles were actually), and performed expertly.