By Mike Savill
What is a review? Is it a critical judgement of the play as a piece of written art or an assessment of its execution on the stage?
The answer, I suppose, is an amalgam of the two, but the balance does not necessarily have to be equal. So let me say it straight out, to me, David Lindsay-Abaire’s, ’Good People’, as a play was, well, ‘okay’.
A quintessentially Bostonian-centred play, exploring the struggles of living in a tough, working class neighbourhood, I know many who loved the narrative, and there is no question that some of the ideas explored are the ‘great universals’ but I guess I must have been terribly, terribly English that evening and I wasn’t quite feeling it. Bold in style, throwing us ‘in medias res’ with the sacking of its protagonist, Margie, in the very first moments of the piece, I found it difficult to initially engage with her plight and that made it harder to hook onto the resultant fall out .
But engage I ultimately did. And that brings me to this other half of the reviewing equation.
Let me tell you about the execution!
This was a slick, compellingly performed, artfully directed piece which impressed from start to finish. And it was this combination of elements that riveted when perhaps for this reviewer the appeal of the story might otherwise have waned.
Debbie Griffiths as Margie shone. Always compelling to watch, her portrayal saw her at the top of her game. The heart of the narrative, her convincing and believable performance elicited laughter and sympathy in equal measure, and drew me into a life that I typically wouldn’t be interested in exploring in such forensic detail. Here was a complex, multi-layered characterisation, humanity not a cardboard cut-out, Debbie nailed her. From perfectly directed and delivered accent (plaudits all round for that by the way) to marvellously controlled physicality, this was a tour de force, rightly lauded by many, and equally so here.
Such a performance however, can only thrive when the support is top notch and here was a cast with no weak links whatsoever.
As Mike, the guy made good from Margie’s past, David Lucas was on equally winning form. With respectability and decency exuding from every pore, his was a modulated performance that offered nuance and subtlety and provided quite a seismic shift in audience interpretation as we find out more about his ‘Southie’ past. A perfect sparring partner for Debbie, the two produced some electric moments of comedy as well as considerable pathos as events unravel in the ‘party’ that takes up much of the second half. Add to this dynamic the confident, controlled delivery from Lorraine Anim-Addo’s as Kate, Mike’s wife, and you have some wholly compelling theatre and a scene that engaged from start to finish.
That this half was signalled by a marvellous ‘coup de theatre’ is further testament to the skilled design and direction of the show, defying expectations set up by the relatively drab settings of the first act: the wall, in front of which events were played out in more minimalist style, was split atwain to reveal a superbly contrasting taste of middle class suburbia, multi levelled, and tastefully decorated, wonderfully dressed. Credit then to the stage crew who made this and so many other seamless changes throughout the evening allowing the play to progress at a marvellous pace.
All this is not to say that the first half was lacking in impact or talent. The brickwork effect that concealed the middle class elegance beyond was perfect for establishing the ‘Dollar Store’ neighbourhood and lifestyle along with some sensational performances.
As Margie’s friend, Jean, Roxanna Graves truly came into her own, totally inhabiting the part. Larger than life, unabashed and ‘no nonsense’, her energetic delivery was a delight to watch and provided many of the evening’s laughs with a delicious sense of comic timing and delivery. Tricia-Osborne King as curmudgeonly landlady, Dottie, was a marvellous foil, and delivered with astutely observed style, a perfect combination of accent, posture and presence which again demonstrates her considerable versatility and ability to engage. Piers Newman completes the cast in a role which, to me, seemed the least well drawn and could very well have just been seen as narrative function, but which Piers made his own and imbued with typical humanity and comedic engagement.
Unquestionably, here was an ensemble that worked together extraordinarily well on stage and behind it. Despite my previously asserted reservation and distanciation, there was an energy to the performances and a slickness of direction which overcame and engaged throughout. From splendidly eclectic soundtrack to Dottie’s wonderful rabbits, Hilary Cordery’s vision was clear and masterfully rendered.
This wasn’t an evening of ‘good’ people then, but one of the great people.