Wednesday, 28 May 2014
Good People at The Noel Coward
I defy anyone not to agree that Imelda Staunton is one of our greatest actresses and if anyone is in any doubt they should go and see her playing Margaret in Good People at The Noel Coward Theatre.
Written by David Lindsay-Abaire, this American comedy with an edge explores the theme of “making your luck”, whilst exposing that, horror of horrors, America is guilty of harbouring a class system. Set in “Southie”, a working class neighbourhood in South Boston, where Lindsay-Abaire spent his early years before escaping via a scholarship to a prestigious private school, Good People opens with Margaret getting the sack from yet another job for bad time keeping. Her desperation is apparent from the onset. Being the sole carer of her severely disabled daughter, no wages coming in can mean the difference between a roof over their heads and living on the street.
This desperation causes Margaret to heed the advice of her wise cracking, outspoken friend, Jean and ask an old school friend, Mike for help in the job seeking stakes. Mike has managed to escape the drudgery of life in Southie by dint of hard work, intelligence and luck. Enjoying a “comfortable” existence in more upmarket Chestnut Hill, Mike (the “lace-curtain Irish”) is a successful “reproductive endocrinologist” and is less than happy to see Margaret turn up in his smart, sterile office. Guilt at being unable to add his, as it turns out, ex girlfriend to his payroll, causes Mike to grudgingly invite her to his house party. After all, there may be someone there who can employ her.
When this party is cancelled at the last minute, Margaret smells a rat and turns up anyway. What follows is an at times heated confrontation between Mike’s glamorous and uber friendly African-American wife, Kate and the two old flames. Secrets that Mike would prefer were kept hidden from Kate are uncovered and we begin to doubt if either he or Margaret are “good people”. This scene highlights the cleverness of Lindsay-Abaire’s writing, for, underneath the sparkling, whip cracking dialogue, nothing is as straightforward as it looks. I’m sorry but a spoiler alert comes into play here so I cannot reveal more about the outcome except to say that one isn’t necessarily always on the side of the underdog. Margaret’s desperation sometimes makes her vindictive, whilst Mike’s dogged determination to better himself can’t be viewed as totally contemptible.
Imelda Staunton has some of the best lines, which she delivers with her characteristic aplomb. She may be tiny, but is certainly not short of energy and whether she be wheedling, desperate, momentarily desolate or wisecracking survivor, Staunton’s Margaret is above all human.
Jonathan Kent ensures that the action never falters. The pace whizzes along and his excellent cast always come up to the mark.
Alongside Staunton, Angel Coulby achieves a wonderful brittle civility as the glamorous wife to the excellent Lloyd Owen’s Mike. The support from Susan Brown as Margaret’s ascerbic land-lady, Dottie, Lorraine Ashbourne as the outspoken friend, Jean and Matthew Barker as the bingo loving (but not gay!) dollar store manager is terrific. Add Hildegard Bechtler’s clever design to this mix and no wonder the West End was so keen to transfer this wonderful production from Hampstead