Last Updated on 14th October 2022
Paul T Davies reviews C P Taylor’s play Good starring David Tennant now playing at the Harold Pinter Theatre, London.
Harold Pinter Theatre, London.
13 October 2022
“Evil is what happens when good people remain silent.” I may be freestyling the quote, but it is the premise of C.P. Taylor’s intellectual play that examines the rise of the Nazi’s through a “good” citizen, Professor Halder. He reasons, listens, has the point of view presented from both his Jewish best friend, and from Nazi officers who request him to put procedures in place. He commits acts of pure evil, and we watch as he becomes overwhelmed by the rise of Nazi ideology and acts upon their instructions. It is chilling, relevant, and the bare staging, together with Dominic Cooke’s brisk, efficient direction, keeps the focus on the debate throughout.
Essentially a three hander, the acting is exquisite. As Halder, David Tennant is excellent at forensic emotion, with a marriage disintegrating, a lover to begin a new life with, and a mother suffering from dementia and blindness, he is the eye of the storm. What Tennant is particularly good at is layering the character, believing in his actions, thinking that in doing good he will be humane in dealing with the human- that one letter making all the difference. Sharon Small is outstanding playing all the major female roles, particularly snapping effectively from wife to confused mother. The play is presented in the interior landscape of Halder’s mind and memory, and her confused dealings in her changing environment effectively distils the play’s theme of rapidly changing landscapes. Elliot Levy completes this trio with an excellent performance as Maurice, Halder’s Jewish best friend, emotional and scared and swearing magnificently as he loses grip on the situation and his life, and he is calm authority as cool, efficient Nazi officers. They are mesmerising. Every time we hear the word good, our hindsight, knowledge and history constantly make us evaluate the word and the reasoning behind that character’s “good” motivations.
Vicki Mortimer’s stripped back set and costumes thrusts the actors downstage and acts as a framing device. We reviewers were requested not to reveal the final fifteen minutes of the play, which I am happy to observe. But that, and the set, made it a little obvious where the play was going to go, and it did go THERE. Although an effective reveal, this diminishes much of the dramatic value of the play, and, in places, the debate is a little over stretched. It’s good to see a play of this calibre rising above much of the frothiness of the current West End, but there are better Holocaust plays, particularly Tom Stoppard’s recent Leopoldstadt. See Good for the tremendous acting, and, whether the play lives up to its title, I would say “in parts.”