Reviews Manchester Published 18 October 2011

Good

Royal Exchange ⋄ 12th October - 5th November 2011

Moral cowardice and complicity.

John Murphy

It’s an age old question: how do ostensibly decent people become complicit in events so horrific they almost defy definition? It’s something that’s been tackled in many art forms over the years, but CP Taylor’s best known work, written in 1981, attempts to answer the question with an almost bewildering degree of intensity.

Good centres around the figure of liberal Professor John Halder, whose report on euthanasia catches the eye of Adolf Hitler. He slowly and inexorably becomes dragged deeper into the Nazi Party while also dealing with issues in his personal life: an unhappy marriage, a mother suffering with senile dementia, an obsession with a young, attractive student and his relationship with his best friend, a Jewish man called Maurice becoming increasingly terrified by the power of the Third Reich.

Polly Findlay’s take on Taylor’s play is a startling, almost hallucinatory one. The first half in particular is head-spinning: scenes overlap, timelines zip back and forth, the cast of characters is introduced with bewildering speed, and every so often there’s a musical interlude. It’s disorientating but incredibly compelling.

As Halder, Adrian Rawlins is on stage for the entirety of the production – he gives an incredible performance, effortlessly switching between dialogue with other characters, internal monologues and the odd aside to the audience. He’s a difficult character to have sympathy with: cowardly, and attempting to justify his actions so much he ends up blaming the very people he’s helping to persecute. Yet the combination of Taylor’s writing, Findlay’s direction and Rawlins’ performance means that he never becomes a cartoon villain.

He’s backed by an exemplary supporting cast, including a touching Kerry Shale as Maurice (very much acting as the voice of Halder’s conscience), a sad and resigned Madeline Worrall as Halder’s wife Helen and the excellent Janet Whiteside as his elderly mother. The musical interludes give a degree of much needed lightness, especially the climax of the first half featuring the full cast doing a song and dance routine, including Hitler clad in some natty plus-fours.

The second half is more sedate, but even more thought-provoking as we see the consequences of Halder’s actions. He becomes close to Adolf Eichmann, ordered to organise a book burning, turns against Maurice thanks to the constant stream of propaganda fed to him by Eichmann and eventually ends up at the gates of Auschwitz in full Nazi regalia. It’s a shocking descent, especially watching Halder’s former student Helen dress him and then say, almost absent-mindedly, “you look really handsome in that uniform”.

James Cotterill’s stage design is as typically inventive as ever, while Charles Balfour’s is incredibly atmospheric. This is an intense, thought-provoking revival, with issues that are still scarily relevant to today.

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John Murphy

John is the former editor of, and current contributor to, musicOMH. He lives in Sheffield, in the shadow of the famous Crucible and Lyceum theatres, and also reviews in nearby Leeds and Manchester. John is also a huge fan of stand-up comedy, and can be often be found in one of Sheffield's comedy clubs, laughing like a madman.

Good Show Info


Directed by Polly Findlay

Written by C. P. Taylor

Cast includes Adrian Rawlins, Kerry Shale, Madeline Worrall, William Oxborrow, Beth Park, Janet Whiteside

Link http://www.royalexchange.org.uk

Running Time 2hrs 20 mins (including interval)

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