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GOOD at the Harold Pinter Theatre

C. P. Taylor’s best-known play examines 1930s Germany from the perspective of one individual, John Halder, a professor at Frankfurt University. Halder’s mother is suffering from dementia and her decline into chaos – mirroring what is happening in the country – undermines Halder’s ability to focus on his career, and prompts him to write about the merits of euthanasia. But Halder’s personal problem will resonate with the politics of the new Germany, and it will drag him on a journey that leads to the main gate of Auschwitz and beyond. Halder is an ordinary man, neither good nor bad, and rather than showing how a good man becomes a bad one, Taylor’s play shows how, faced with certain choices, an individual will come to put his own good before that of others, even his family and friends. The answer lies not in Mein Kampf but in the Talmud.

David Tennant in GOOD at the Harold Pinter Theatre, Directed by Dominic Cooke, Photographer Johan Persson
David Tennant in GOOD at the Harold Pinter Theatre, Directed by Dominic Cooke, Photographer Johan Persson.

Howard Davies’ original production was staged at what is now the Donmar Warehouse in September 1981. Then Good was billed as “a comedy with music” and it had a cast of 14, including Alan Howard – for whom Taylor had written the part – and a five-strong café orchestra that was on stage throughout, a decision that undermined the play’s macabre final lines. In this new production, director Dominic Cooke has dialled down the comedy and incorporated the music much more effectively. He has also slimmed down the cast. As Taylor’s protean everyman (one meaning of Halder is “surname”) and looking uncannily like Alan Howard, David Tennant is outstanding as he accommodates and eventually embodies what Hannah Arendt so memorably dubbed the banality of evil. Playing Halder’s Jewish friend among other parts, Elliot Levey is superb, whether challenging his friend’s complaisant attitude or pleading for support. The third principal is Sharon Small, playing Halder’s wife and other characters that – with one exception – are hard to distinguish: this is unfortunate as Taylor’s script – which took ten years to complete – is complex, with overlapping scenes and dialogue that meshes with thoughts and music. In contrast with past productions that have used lighting to echo Germany’s embrace of Hitler’s ghastly ideology, Zoe Spurr’s lighting design is stark and utilitarian. And it is complemented by Tom Gibbons’ vivid sound design and Vicki Mortimer’s cold and evocative concrete set.

Shortly before he died at the age of 52, the prolific Cecil Taylor told the critic David Isaacs that with Good he thought he was finally starting to get the hang of it. On the strength of this fine revival of what can now be seen as a twentieth-century classic, his death was a terrible loss to theatre.

Highly recommended

4 stars

Review by Louis Mazzini

Professor John Halder is a ‘good’ man.
But ‘good’ men must adapt to survive.

How is it possible to be a ‘good’ person when things are falling apart?

As the world faces a World War, John Halder, a decent, intelligent, music-loving German professor, finds himself swept along in a movement that crescendos towards an unthinkable finale.

Olivier Award-winning director Dominic Cooke reimagines one of Britain’s most powerful, political plays with David Tennant returning to the West End alongside Elliot Levey and Sharon Small, for 11 weeks only.

Further casting includes Jim Creighton, Rebecca Bainbridge, Izaak Cainer, Jamie Cameron, Edie Newman, Lizzie Schenk and George Todică.

Produced by Fictionhouse and Playful Productions, GOOD plays a strictly limited 11-week season at the Harold Pinter Theatre until Saturday 24 December 2022.

Director: Dominic Cooke
Set and Costume Designer: Vicki Mortimer
Lighting Designer: Zoe Spurr
Sound Designer: Tom Gibbons
Hair, Wigs & Make Up: Campbell Young
Musical Arranger and Composer: Will Stuart
Movement Director: Imogen Knight
Casting Director: Amy Ball CDG

By C.P. Taylor
Directed by Dominic Cooke
Starring David Tennant with Elliot Levey and Sharon Small

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