by David Lindsay-Abaire.
Hampstead Theatre Eton Avenue Swiss Cottage NW3 3EU To 5 April 2014.
Transfers to Noel Coward Theatre St Martin’s Lane WC2N 4AH To 14 June 2014.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Wed & Sat 2.30pm.
TICKETS: 0844 482 5130 .
Runs 2hr 10min One interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 5 March.
Piercing and comic social critique.
Apart from the historical and geographical excursions of Howard Brenton’s recent plays at Hampstead Theatre, the programme there has tended to concern the emotional preoccupations of materially comfortable characters. If American playwright David Lindsay-Abaire’s Good People does this, it’s only as context for the less well-possessed.
It starts with a metaphorical stabbing in the backyard as Imelda Staunton’s Margaret is sacked from her supermarket job by manager Stevie. Margaret’s ready with an attrition-load of excuses, knowing Stevie’s a decent guy from her own neighbourhood. But this time Senior Management are on his back; it’s sack or be sacked, no matter it’s her sick child making her repeatedly late.
Staunton, as may be imagined, gives the dialogue a lively comic edge, but makes the devastation clear. It’s the moment Margaret never thought would come. These days, around these parts, once you lose your job you don’t walk into another. Desperate, she begs for another chance, offering to work for less and less money.
It couldn’t happen in the English subsidiary of this supermarket. Not casually, unrepresented, in a back-alley appointed for such a purpose, anyway.
That opening sets the story, desperation pushing Margaret on and awkwardness holding her back, as she seeks help from a school-friend who’s achieved success as a society doctor.
Hildegard Bechtler’s set revolves between the basic flat Margaret’s about to lose, or the bingo-hall she visits with friends neatly individualised – Lorraine Ashbourne’s would-be helpful Jean and June Watson’s sympathetic but business-minded Dottie – and the sleek colour-minimalism of Mike’s (Lloyd Owen) consulting-room and the house he shares with Angel, the smooth-mannered Black wife he’s collected on the way up.
It’s a tale of two Americas, financial rather than ethnic in their division. And temporary financial salvation comes with a plot step reminiscent of Dickens’ Great Expectations, reminding how class differences persist in America.
In a fine cast, Staunton is outstanding as a woman flailing around, becoming a vulnerable monster, as Good People exposes the cruelties of a bottom-line society, Jonathan Kent’s production searching-out characters’ incidental callousness as well as their moments of hollow or helpful sympathy.
Margaret: Imelda Staunton.
Stevie: Matthew Barker.
Dottie: June Watson.
Jean: Lorraine Ashbourne.
Mike: Lloyd Owen.
Kate: Angel Coulby.
Director: Jonathan Kent.
Designer: Hildegard Bechtler.
Lighting: Mark Henderson.
Sound: Paul Groothuis.
Voice/Dialect coach: Penny Dyer.
Assistant director: Denni Sayers.