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South Boston, the place of ‘cahs’ instead of ‘cars’, is the all-encompassing setting for Good People, David Lindsay-Abaire’s fascinating story of pride, poverty and the past. However, as we follow its inhabitants trudging through their everyday lives, it’s clear that rather than merely a backdrop, the city is also a restraint that grips each of them and never quite lets go, no matter how hard they try to leave it behind.
Let’s get the obvious out of the way quickly – Imelda Staunton is brilliant.
Moved from a sell-out run at the Hampstead Theatre to the glitzier Noel Coward, the play loses none of its small town heart. ‘Southie’ Margaret, played by a frenetic Imelda Staunton, is down on her luck and her rent pay when she loses her job (again). With news from her cackling friend Jean (Lorraine Ashbourne) that her old boyfriend Mike (Lloyd Owen) is back in the neighbourhood and – of all things – a doctor, she decides to seek him out on the off chance he might be able to find her a job. But, as they meet for the first time in nearly three decades, they realise what different paths their lives have taken, and must face the secrets they’ve hidden from themselves.
Let’s get the obvious out of the way quickly – Imelda Staunton is brilliant. Fuming and gesticulating her way across the stage like a passive aggressive whirlwind, her performance of Margaret is one of bitterness and anger paired with straight up hilarity. She duly doles out the harsh truths and blunt put downs with gleeful impishness, which works particularly well alongside Owen’s seemingly lackadaisical, yet in reality uptight, Mike.
The rest of the cast each bring their own insightful quirks to the play – Susan Brown’s bemused Dottie and her rabbits made from plant pots notably increases the laughter levels every time she appears – but the play is ultimately about Staunton and Owen’s tightly wound Margaret and Mike, forced to pace the stage together.
As for pacing in the play itself, the first ten minutes feel as drawn out as the slightly ropey Bahhston accents. However, the second half comes alive with rage, revelations and rabbit smashings. Lindsay-Abaire’s dialogue is on the whole punchy – only on certain occasions do some scenes feel overly lengthy and even then they are often brought back into focus with a quick joke or a shift in tension. Above all it is his wonderfully realised characters, the ones that we are uneasy to truly laugh at because in their desperate sarcasm we see something we recognise, that stay with us until the end. They might well yell and scream in that big brash accent, but it’s the deep seated agonies those shouts are covering that makes this a truly captivating tale.