“I think we’re both probably good, whatever that means.”

Credit: Johan Persson

C.P. Taylor’s GOOD first premiered in 1981 at the Donmar Warehouse. It’s a play that examines how seemingly good people can do the unspeakable and the path that leads them there. The play is centred around Professor John Halder (David Tennant), an English Literature Professor in Frankfurt, Germany. The play is set in 1933-1942, during the rise of Nazi Germany. On the surface, Halder appears ‘good,’ a married man with children who cares for his mother who is blind and has dementia. However, we soon learn of his affair with a student and the book he has written about euthanasia for people with dementia. Maurice (Elliot Levey) is his only friend and he’s Jewish.

Vicki Mortimer’s set is bleak and simplistic, emulating a stifling windowless prison cell. There are no staging changes throughout the show, except for a flurry of books which are dropped onstage and subsequently thrown into a fire. The lack of staging changes means it can be difficult to distinguish where one scene ends and another begins. This is further complicated as this production forgoes the usual large company of actors, and instead utilises the talents of Sharon Small and Elliot Levey as they take on multiple roles throughout the show. Both give stellar performances and do a great job of making the roles distinct. Small’s use of accents and physicality in her performance of Mother is useful in determining who is who, but the show can still be rather hard to follow in places. This production of GOOD definitely requires a certain degree of concentration throughout; it’s not a show you can simply get lost in and find your way back.  

Credit: Johan Persson

Act One is mainly comprised of conversations and discussion between the three actors on stage. I found that the pacing of this act was lacking, and whilst it set the scene, nothing much happened. Act Two, however, grabs you and moves you to the edge of your seat wondering what will happen next.

Unsurprisingly, Tennant’s performance is exceptional. He plays a deeply flawed man who displays narcissistic tendencies and appears detached from what’s going on in the world around him. Refusing to accept his own responsibilities, he remains carefree as the atrocities don’t affect him, therefore he doesn’t worry about it. Somehow Tennant still manages to make this performance charismatic in places. He plays the role with such subtlety that you almost don’t see just how bad Halder is under the cracks on the surface until the ultimate reveals in Act Two.

Is GOOD, good? That’s the question. The performances are wonderful and faultless throughout, Tennant’s stage presence is mesmerising, and Small appears a thespian chameleon as she changes between characters seamlessly. Levey is both endearing and heart-breaking as he gives the contrasting perspective within the play, being the singular Jewish character. C.P. Taylor’s script is great, and thought-provoking, allowing us to examine how someone changes from good to bad. The play doesn’t look at the aftermath of the Holocaust or the personal effects on the characters, but it does shine a light on the process of how someone can evolve. With some better pacing and some creative tweaks, this show could have a better impact, as currently I don’t feel it’s quite the powerful watch they were intending it to be. The most impactful moment is when Kristallnacht is portrayed in complete darkness, with Tom Gibbons’ sound design surrounding the audience.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

{🎟 AD – PR invite – Tickets were gifted in exchange for an honest review}

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