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Good, Royal Exchange, Reviewed

Lucy Tomlinson wonders about a Nazi surprise that doesn't shock

Published on October 18th 2011.

Good, Royal Exchange, Reviewed

THE ROYAL Exchange’s new production of Good, written by CP Taylor and directed by Polly Findlay asks the question, how do ordinary ‘good’ people let terrible things happen? Nazis are nasty, we all know that by now, but what about the millions of other Germans who weren’t blood-crazed sadists, but normal people - like you and me?

Perhaps the main problem with Good is that now the Holocaust has been filmed and written about in such intense and graphic detail (including a film adaptation of Good) is that the intended weight of the climax falls a bit flat for desensitised audiences 

Good lodges the audience firmly in the mind of one Professor Halder, a ‘good’ man struggling with personal circumstance and an odd synaesthetic affliction – in times of trouble a band pops up to serenade him.

For a play set in Nazi Germany, remarkably little of the Second World War is mentioned. War abroad is of little importance to the war at home; as the Nazis’ set out to destroy the ‘enemy inside’, so Halder’s mind struggles with itself. Scenes, or fragments of scenes, bleed into one another, giving the impression of frenzied fever dream. Even Hitler turns up to worry out whether Halder should leave his wife for his mistress.

Stress reverberates through the play, from the mundane – the house is a mess, the kids need feeding - to the difficult: a depressive, fragile wife and a blind, senile mother in need of proper care. But this all pales into comparison with the stress suffered by Maurice, Halder’s best and only friend. For Maurice is Jewish and increasingly in fear of his life. Halder believes, or at least wants to believe, that the racial problems will all blow over. Meanwhile, the Nazi party have set their sights on Halder as a respectable intellectual fig leaf for the next stage of their project...

The message is, of course, about the insidious banality of evil. Here is Eichmann looking like a jolly nice chap. Blonde, plump SS officer Freddie (played as a nice but dim, thoroughly good egg by Richard Goulding) is too busy worrying about getting his wife pregnant to really put much thought into burning down a few synagogues. It’s a tiresome chore that takes him away from his roast duck (‘it won’t be as good reheated’) much like having to pop back to the office to placate a demanding boss.

Excellent performances included Kerry Shale as the wise-cracking, sardonic, and increasingly sweary Maurice, Madeleine Worrall as Halder’s fragile wife Elisabeth, who drifts around in pyjamas (come to think of it, there are a lot of dressing gowns in this play) and a general air of neglect, and Janet Whiteside, playing the mother as an imperious Dowager Duchess with dementia. Adrian Rawlins as Halder has a much more difficult part, as we are required to condemn and sympathise with him – but often he just comes across as implausibly ignorant.

The music is the thing that really holds this play together and allows you to believe Halder isn’t really just a thoughtless careerist. From popular songs and Bavarian band music, to Marlene Dietrich and Mendelssohn, the inventiveness and irony of the music is an absolute gem. It is only at the climax of the play that you begin to get an understanding of the inspiration for such a theatrical device. Almost as important is the lighting, which throbs with a kind of moral insistency.

Adrian Rawlins As Halder In Good By C P Taylor %28Royal Exchange Theatre, 12 October - 5 November 2011%29. Photo - Jonathan Keenan.Adrian Rawlins As Halder. Photo - Jonathan Keenan.

It is the mark of a ‘good’ play that whatever the setting, its theme will apply to a variety of times and situations. So it is with Good. When self-serving Halder rants about putting society above the individual in a grandiose piece of sophistry, it is much too easy to think of our current politicians. But Halder is a man like ourselves  - self-obsessed, self-absorbed and self-deceiving , even when trying to do the right thing.

Perhaps the main problem with Good is that now the Holocaust has been filmed and written about in such intense and graphic detail (including a film adaptation of Good) is that the intended weight of the climax falls a bit flat for desensitised audiences who’ve seen Schindler’s List (the opposite of this play in many ways).  Hardly the fault of the play, which was first performed thirty years ago, but perhaps, yet another comment on the times. Plenty to the think about then, or perhaps not. For a complex play it turns out the answers are quite simple: be nice to other people, and Nazis really are nasty.

Good is at the Royal Exchange until 15 November. For further info or to book click here

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Kevin PeelOctober 20th 2011.

I saw it on Tuesday. I didn't enjoy it as much as I thought I might. I got the impression you were supposed to leave feeling some sympathy for Halder and people like him and an understanding of how one could get into that situation. I have to say I didn't feel either.

Dave SmithNovember 6th 2011.

Didn't really enjoy the content but had to really admire the acting from the whole cast, Adrian Rawlins particularly shone with a massive part - virtually the 2nd act is all him. A joy to watch that sort of refined talent.

1 Response: Reply To This...
Dave SmithNovember 6th 2011.

P.S. Great review too by Lucy, very perceptive.

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