Review by Daz Gale
It’s been a long time coming for the revival of Good to arrive in the West End. Originally due to open in 2020, the pandemic put a stop to that. The good news is it’s now finally found a home (albeit a different theatre to where it had originally planned) but was it worth the wait?
Good by C.P. Taylor was first seen in 1981 and has been reimagined by Dominic Cooke for this new production. Set in Frankfurt from 1933 to 1942, it centres around the rise of the Nazis as World War II loom. Predominantly focusing on Professor John Halder, we watch on as he wrestles between his own morality as a good man on a particularly bad path, and attempts to explore what exactly makes somebody a good person.
David Tennant returns to the stage following his acclaimed turn in Don Juan In Soho five years ago, leading the cast as Professor John Halder. As expected with a man with a career as big as David’s has been, his acting is particularly astounding to watch. David is fantastic as he channels the very depths of the characters soul in an understated performance which highlights all the nuances and complexities of this very interesting character. The subtle way David plays with the character makes it a lot more ambiguous to tell the workings of the character initially – as events in the play unfold, his barely changing demeanour takes on a whole new meaning in what is truly a masterclass performance.
Fresh from his Olivier Award winning turn in Cabaret, Elliot Levey moves down the road for another show involving Nazis as he flits between various characters in Good. The character he keeps returning to and the most memorable and prominent of the lot is of Johns best friend Maurice who provide the only Jewish perspective of the play, sometimes to surprising results. Elliot is every bit as wonderful in Good as he was in Cabaret in an urgent and varied performance that demands your attention at every turn. An expletive filled scene in act 2 is a particularly highlight – never has a certain four letter word been more satisfying.
The main cast is completed by Sharon Small, again playing a variety of roles including Johns wife and his mother (Not a role you want to get confused). The way she effortlessly switches from one to the other and back again, often in quick succession is a joy to witness and a testament to Sharons brilliance as an actress. Fantastic in all of the roles she takes on in this production, it’s her scenes as Johns mother that really sticks in the memory in a haunting portrayal. Absolutely gripping to watch, Sharon ensures the acting from all three of the main players are of a consistently phenomenal standard.
A relatively rustic and sparse set design from Vicki Mortimer sees a fairly static stage allowing all the focus to be on the three actors – reminiscent in certain respect to Cock earlier this year, minimal props are used with the sound of these imagined props filling the background. The set is deceptive in its appearance though with several reveals throughout the play including one that would be too much of a spoiler to speak of. Dominic Cookes inspired direction makes Good a captivating watch from start to finish while inspired sound design from Tom Gibbons and lighting from Zoe Spurr ensures all the elements of this are consistently good.
The writing in Good is one of its biggest strengths. The casual ways the atrocities that took place during this terrible time are talked about is an eye-opening and intriguing premise that is noticeably different from other plays with similar themes. Good is less interested about the aftermath of these events and more into what caused seemingly harmless people to lead the pack in a play where the very question of morality forms the heart. It is a bit of a slow burn of a show but one that gets increasingly faster with the sense of impending doom looming over the proceedings. Perhaps I found the pacing of the first act a bit too slow personally, but this was rectified in a far pacier and affecting second act which sees time tick away and events spiral exponentially.
The themes explored in Good are overall thought provoking – the overarching question of what it takes to be a good person and at one point someone can stop being good leads to an interesting viewing experience and one that makes you think long after you’ve left the theatre, thanks in part to a handful of truly chilling moments. With an actor as accomplished as David Tennant in this role joined by two equally formidable actors, Good is a compelling piece of theatre and thankfully one that lives up to the title of the play.
GOOD is at the Harold Pinter Theatre until 24 December 2022. Tickets available here.
Photos by Johan Persson