Good People: A Review

It’s not really a book (cut out the really, it’s just not a book), but I thought that this would make an interesting review. I was in London last weekend, and on Saturday night I went to the Noel Coward Theatre to see ‘Good People’ by David Lindsey-Abaire. I had very mixed feelings about the play. I’ll try to keep this one spoiler-free, but it may still contain a few plot details.

The cast of the play was excellent, all in all. Imelda Staunton held the piece entirely together as Margie, a poor, unemployed American who is a single mother with a disabled daughter. Without surrendering to comedy, she managed to be very funny whilst still showcasing Margie’s desperation. She dictated the tension of every moment, building it up to a climax in every scene. The rest of the cast, particularly Angel Coulby as Kate and Lorraine Ashbourne as Jean, should also be commended.

The play is about a single mother, Margie, who has just been fired from her job as a cashier and has to support an adult disabled daughter. An old boyfriend, Mike, turns up in town as a doctor. Margie and Mike are both from Southie, a rough background, which Mike has escaped but Margie hasn’t. Margie forces him to invite her to his drinks party and he calls later to say it’s cancelled. Margie turns up to call his bluff but it actually had been cancelled because their daughter Allie is sick. Kate (Mike’s wife) invites Margie in, much to Mike’s discomfort, and Margie decides to ruin Mike’s relationship with his wife, as well as possibly find a way to provide for Joyce (her daughter).

The play certainly had a good concept, but Margie’s bitter resentment of Mike’s wealth could have made for a greater climax than it did. The main question of the play (‘why did Mike make it out of Southie when Margie didn’t?’) was left largely unanswered. Lindsay-Abaire seems to dismiss Mike’s hard work out of hand; yet dumb luck is not nearly so satisfying for the audience. Nothing was ever quite resolved in the play – the main scene of conflict, between Margie, Kate and Mike, ended with every character unchanged. It is revealed that Mike attacked and nearly killed another kid because he was black when they were growing up. Kate is shocked (she herself is black and doesn’t like the idea of a racist husband) but nothing comes of that. Nothing changed throughout the course of the play. Of course fixed points can be powerful – look at Tom and Daisy in ‘The Great Gatsby’ or Ranevskaya in ‘The Cherry Orchard’, but in those plays there is a plot, and the conscious decision of the characters to reject change in itself is compelling. The inevitability of Margie’s fate is an interesting concept, but nothing happens in the play to even make her come to terms with it. We never find out the reason for the inevitability of her fate. Whilst to a certain extent it may reflect real life, it is slightly anticlimatic. To quote Russell T Davies:

…”I think it [change] is inherent in a story, any story. That’s why they’re stories. Things start on Page 1 and are different by the final page, or else why is the tale being told? The Goldilocks who runs away from the three bears is a very different girl from the one who started out into the forest. The change might not last, she might well go back to stealing other people’s food and trashing their furniture, but that’s why the story ends when it does.”

The Margie that takes her final bow is the same Margie that greeted us at curtain-up. None of the characters change. Having said that, the play was full of poignant desperation and resignation, with funny dialogue (highlighted by the brilliant actors) and realistic characters. For me, the best moment in the play was towards the end of the conflict scene (spoiler alert: avert your eyes here) when Kate turns on Margie, correctly calling her bluff about Joyce’s parentage. No mother would ever let their child suffer ‘to be nice’ to the father. Kate, who has been kind and considerate to Margie throughout the scene, now turns on her with a look of pure maternal loathing, imagining Joyce to be Allie. The tension between Coulby and Staunton was well portrayed.

Some moments were good, the acting was great, but overall I was a little disappointed in the actual substance of ‘Good People’ by David Lindsay-Abaire.  Feel free to comment and to express your own opinion!

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