Good People – Review – East Riding Theatre
By Rachael Popow, March 2018
Class is supposed to be a very British obsession, but it’s also at the heart of American writer David Lindsay-Abaire’s play Good People, which is set in his native Boston.
It clearly struck a chord with US audiences – in 2011, the original Broadway run gave Frances McDormand a Best Actress Tony Award to put in her trophy cabinet (the most recent addition is her second Oscar, which she picked up this month for her role in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri).
Now, the play has arrived at the East Riding Theatre and is giving Joy Brook the chance to sink her teeth into the lead role of Margie, a single mother with a mentally disabled adult daughter (the unseen Joycie) living in the tough, working-class area of South Boston.
We’re first introduced to Margie when she’s fired from her job at a dollar store because of her habitual lateness, which is down to the fact that she doesn’t have reliable care for her daughter. Her chances of finding another job don’t look great but her friend Jean (Nada Sharp) suggests a possible lead in the shape of Margie’s ex-boyfriend Mike (Rory Murray), a successful fertility doctor who has moved back to Boston.
When Margie shows up at his office to ask for work, Mike claims he doesn’t have any vacancies, but after a pointed remark suggesting that he’s forgotten his roots, she does manage to bag an invitation to his birthday party, where she hopes one of his rich friends will be looking for a new employee.
It’s a set-up that ultimately raises questions about social mobility. Mike and Margie started out from the same place – is it his work ethic and her poor decisions that mean he got out while she’s still scraping by in ‘Southie’, or does it all come down to luck? It’s possible that Lindsay-Abaire’s argument ends up being a little too one-sided, but Margie is never simply a downtrodden saint. As well as being willing to fight for herself and her daughter, there’s also a needling side to her nature that comes out in her scenes with Mike – despite her claims that she’s only joking (or rather ‘busting his balls’, it’s clear that she knows how to get under his skin with her digs about his newfound status.
Their uneasy reunion, which gets even more awkward when his his younger wife Kate (the excellent Misha Duncan-Barry) and her shifting sympathies are added to the mix, makes for most of the drama and tension, especially in the second act, but there’s a lot of humour in Good People too.
Balances the laughs with the revelations”
Janet Prince has great comic timing as Dottie, Margie’s landlady and ‘friend’, who makes it very clear just how quickly her mate will be out on her ear if she doesn’t pay the rent. A scene at the bingo hall, where Jean and Dottie encounter Margie’s former boss Stevie (an endearing performance from Michael Kinsey) is particularly funny.
Director Adrian Rawlins expertly balances the laughs with the revelations, and proves that Good People’s class issues are as relevant to Beverley as they are to Boston.