Good: NT Live


Cameo Cinema, Edinburgh

We miss the first screening of Good due to health issues and are resigned to our fate, but happily The Cameo Cinema offers this encore screening just as we’re scratching our heads and wondering what we should see tonight.

Written by the comparatively little known C P Taylor (who tragically died soon after Good had its London premiere in 1981) this excoriating piece of theatre feels weirdly askew from the opening scene. Why has set designer, Vicki Mortimer opted to use so little of the Harold Pinter Theatre’s stage, confining the action to a narrow, wedge shaped, performance space, which only really opens up at the play’s startling conclusion?

Well, it’s this confined quality which emphasises the chilling claustrophobia of the piece, the story of a man consumed by his own hubris and his willingness to repeatedly spin his own heinous crimes as the actions of a ‘good’ person.

The man in question is Halder (David Tennant), a German literary professor whose published works catch the eyes of important people in the rising Nazi party, and who is invited to join their swelling ranks. But there’s an obvious problem with this suggestion: Halder’s best friend, psychiatrist Maurice (Elliot Levey), is Jewish and doesn’t see why he should be expected to hide the fact. Meanwhile, Halder is struggling to maintain a marriage to his hapless wife, Helen (Sharon Small), whilst looking after his mother, who is stricken by dementia – and he’s also starting an affair with one of his students, Anne. How is he going to square all these issues to his own satisfaction whilst proudly taking his place in the ranks of the SS? And at what point will he decide that he’s being asked to go too far?

Tennant, making his long awaited return to the West End, is incredibly assured in the complex role of Halder, switching from slyly funny to chillingly mercenary with aplomb. At one point, he even sings and dances with absolute authority, personifying the charmer with a steely inner self. Levy too is excellent, both as Maurice and in the other roles he inhabit, but for me it’s Small who really commands the stage, flicking effortlessly between her three female characters – and the persona of an alpha male SS commandant – simply by changing her voice and her posture. It’s a superbly nuanced performance that ensures I’m always fully aware of who she is embodying at any given moment.

Essentially a three-hander (although the play does feature other performers in its final stages), Good is an ambitious and original piece of theatre that makes me wonder what Taylor might have achieved if only he’d lived longer.

4 stars

Philip Caveney


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