Good People

Theatre, Drama
3 out of 5 stars

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

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at least notable that the West End production of ‘The Full Monty’ – which closed for somewhat mysterious reasons – has been replaced by another comedy about a working class northerner who loses their job and turns to unconventional means to get by.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.

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