This visceral, raw, compelling and mischievously funny and witty play, Good People, by the American playwright David Lindsay-Abaire, receives its London premiere three years after it first opened, to great acclaim, on Broadway.
It is set in South Boston, locally known as Southie, where Lindsay-Abaire was born but managed to escape thanks to a scholarship that changed his life.
The opening scene sets the keynote to the play – an alley behind the Dollar Store where forces of desperation, power, powerlessness and grim social realities unravel without a hint of sentimentality.
Margaret, brilliantly performed by Imelda Staunton (it is worth a trip to the theatre if only to see Staunton’s performance – magnificent), a single mother of a 20 plus year old daughter, Joyce, who is severely disabled. She routinely arrives to work late due to her daughter’s ‘babysitter’ failure to turn up on time. Margaret is confronted by her young boss, Stevie, who though sympathetic, has to follow orders and fire her. Her reaction and desperate attempt to cling to her job ranges from bitter-humour to challenge, plea and even pathetic emotional blackmail ‘you are lucky your mother’s dead. We grew up together, me and your mother. If she knew what you were doing right now…’
She seems like a struggling fish desperate to slip back into water that is until she hears that Mike (Lloyd Owen), her sweetheart from their teens, is a doctor and is working in town.
She makes it her business to face Mike, in his office. The exchange between the two is like a ping-pong match, but she hit the ball the hardest, in desperation to get any job. She even squeezes out of him an invitation to his birthday party at his house at Chestnut Hill in the suburbs.
The encounter at his house is masterfully unravelled. There we meet Mike’s black wife, Kate, superbly performed by Angela Coulby. In the comfort of Mike’s home, laced with a glass of wine and lots of ‘pretty pungent’ cheeses, a great deal is revealed unmasking unpleasant truths and manipulation of facts, heightening tension, bringing the scene to a dramatic crescendo.
There is delectable support from June Watson as Dottie, Margaret’s cunning yet stupid landlady, Lorraine Ashbourne as Jean, Margaret loyal and streetwise friend, and Matthew Barker’s Stevie, the Dollar Store Manager who everyone thinks is gay because he likes playing bingo.
Jonathan Kent’s superb direction is effectively complemented by Hildegard Bechtler’s impressive design and scene changes, enhancing in each scene a false sense of comfort in the uncomfortable reality.
David Lindsay-Abaire‘s wittily crafted dialogues captures the social nuances of the hard hit and poorly educated working class. The glimpse into Mike’s economic and social success not only flags the contrast between those fortunate to escape the economically eroding shackles of poverty but also the social perception of what is ‘Good People’.