[star rating=”4.5″] GOOD. By C.P Taylor. With David Tennant, Elliot Levey, and Sharon Small. Directed by Dominic Cooke. National Theatre Live.
MEGAN CHORITZ reviews
I must confess that I feel saturated with WW2 and holocaust stories. So, when I did a bit of research before I went to the preview of Good, I had a feeling I knew what to expect. Instead, I was taken in, worked over, and then expelled from the movie house in a wrecked state, once again in awe of the power of theatre to move one, change one, in such a fundamental yet visceral way.
The National Theatre Live screenings are often like a transfusion for me, and this production of C.P Taylor’s 1981 play Good is no exception. What’s wonderful with the screenings is they give a bit of context before the play and they do a little film during interval, and this time it was about the playwright, who had a heart attack after the opening night of his play, and died soon after, never to experience the success of what is considered to be one of Britain’s most famous plays.
The blurb on the Fiction House website reads: “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. Good is a warning for our times.” But I think ‘swept along’ should be ‘dragged incredibly slowly’ along, as John Halder’s point of view shifts in minute increments until, almost shockingly, he appears in full SS regalia outside the gates of Auschwitz concentration camp.
The genius of the play is that this is how it happens. This is how people become the frogs in the slowly boiling pot, how evil dehumanisation is first hinted at and even disbelieved, then suggested, then slowly rationalised, justified and finally normalised. It is terrifyingly familiar, this trajectory. And it is terrifyingly relevant. It is history repeating itself.
I have not read the script, but this production is highly stylised, with David Tennant playing John Halder and the other two taking on a variety of roles that include John’s young mistress, his mother, and his best friend Maurice, who is Jewish.
The set is grey and bare, with a bench that runs on both walls, on the diagonal. No furniture, very few props, and a soundtrack with effects that suggest the action, without the actors ‘doing’ it. The stylised performance has actors switching from character to character (and even gender) without a pause, and characters breaking the fourth wall to speak their innermost thoughts. The debate is deliberately intellectual, making the rationalisation of evil even worse.
Theatre at its very best
This play is terrifying. Chilling. Devastating. And this production is nothing short of awesome. Elliot Levey manages to portray Maurice with such emotional incredulity it is utterly shattering, but it is David Tennant who must transform, as slowly as he can, from the good guy, the naively intellectual, the romantic, the music lover, to the SS officer and part of the holocaust pure evil machinery.
This is theatre at its absolute best. This is why we still need it. This is where we can feel, learn, move, shift. I hope these words inspire actors, playwrights, directors, writers, students of theatre, lovers of ideas, storytellers to go and see it. In fact, it should be a setwork for all theatre makers. This is what we are aiming for. I urge you to see it. This is how we can find and then speak the truth. We say ‘never again’ until it is happening again.
When: 23 September at 5.30pm, with three further screenings on 24 September at 2.30pm, and on 27 and 28 September at 5.30pm
Where: Rosebank Nouveau in Johannesburg, Ster-Kinekor Brooklyn in Pretoria, Ster-Kinekor V&A Waterfront in Cape Town and Ster-Kinekor Gateway in Umhlanga