Good People, theatre review: Imelda Staunton magnificent as tough single mother

4.00

Hampstead Theatre, London

American dramatist David Lindsay-Abaire first sprang to our attention on this side of the Atlantic when, in 2004, Sam Mendes chose to launch a new production company with Fuddy Meers, a relentlessly wacky but soft-centred farce about an amnesiac stroke-victim.  Unimpressed by that, I approached Good People with fairly low expectations, figuring that it would be another of those US hits that are untransportable to these shores. 

But the piece, receiving its UK premiere in a superlatively cast production that's directed with mordant aplomb by Jonathan Kent, is a reproof to my pessimism.  True, in the final analysis, I think the play is flawed by sentimentality and an over-loading of the dice.  But it asks provocative questions about the American class system and about the role that luck plays in separating the haves from the have-nots and it does so through the kind of  artfully mortifying social comedy we associate with the author's compatriots: Bruce (Clybourne Park) Norris and Neil LaBute. 

The setting is “Southie”, a downtrodden, blue-collar neighbourhood in South Boston which Lindsay-Abaire himself partly escaped by winning a day-boy scholarship to a prestigious private school.  Imelda Staunton is magnificent as Margie, a tough, sharp-tongued single-mother with a severely handicapped adult daughter whom we first see begging to keep her dead-end job as a cashier at a dollar-store.  She's chronically late not because she's feckless but because of the unreliability of the baby-sitter.  Desperate for work, she hears that Mikey, a high-school boyfriend who has made good as a fertility doctor, is back in town and decides to appeal to him.

He is not overjoyed to see her. The moneyed medic's smugness and defensiveness (beautifully caught by Lloyd Owen) rile her into taunting him that he's “lace curtain Irish”.  Stung by this, he invites her to party which is then genuinely cancelled.  Offended at what she perceives to be a slight, Margie crashes his sleek Chestnut Hill home where she's initially mistaken for a caterer by Mikey's glamorous, upper-middle-class African-American spouse (excellent Angel Coulby).  The resulting scene is excruciatingly funny (“How's the wine?” asks the rigidly reluctant host; “How the fuck would I know?” she quips) with the maritally disaffected wife falling over herself to be gracious and egging Margie on to tell stories about Mikey's past that cast doubt on his determined belief that he rose by sheer desert that she is wretched because of bad choices. 

The eloquent expression “making your luck” nicely captures both the unfairness of life's lottery and the necessity of creative effort.  Good People is in danger of simplifying this through polarisation – revealing the doctor to be an ungrateful comprehensive shit and positing in Margie a salt-of-the-earth heroine whose problems stem from misplaced self-sacrifice and whose belated surge of vindictive resentment is not as ugly as it seems.  The latter's pluck, combative humour, mischief and those moments when the resilience falters and the desolation throws through are communicated with a lovely unsentimental warmth, though, in Staunton's richly convincing and rounded portrayal.

To April 5; 0207 722 9301

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint kiss in Doctor Who episode 'Deep Breath'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Carell in the poster for new film 'Foxcatcher'
filmExclusive: First look at comic actor in first major serious role
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Kingston Road in Stockton is being filmed for the second series of Benefits Street
arts + entsFilming for Channel 4 has begun despite local complaints
Arts and Entertainment
Led Zeppelin

music
Arts and Entertainment
Radio presenter Scott Mills will be hitting the Strictly Come Dancing ballroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce performs in front of a Feminist sign at the MTV VMAs 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has taken home the prize for Video of the Year at the MTV Video Music Awards 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Paige and Scott Lowell in Queer as Folk (Season 5)
tvA batch of shows that 'wouldn't get past a US network' could give tofu sales an unexpected lift
Arts and Entertainment
books... but seller will be hoping for more
Arts and Entertainment
John Kearns winner of the Foster's Edinburgh Comedy Award with last years winners: Bridget Christie and Frank Skinner
comedyJohn Kearns becomes the first Free Fringe act to win the top prize
Arts and Entertainment
Professor Sue Vice
booksAcademic says we should not disregard books because they unexpectedly change genre
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Muscato performs as Michael Crawford in Stars in Their Eyes

TV
Arts and Entertainment
‘Game of Thrones’

TV
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus brought her Bangerz tour to London's O2 Arena last night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Loaded weapon: drugs have surprise side effects for Scarlett Johansson in Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’
film
Arts and Entertainment
Novelist Martin Amis at The Times Cheltenham Literature Festival

books
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'

After giving gay film R-rating despite no sex or violence

film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

    Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

    A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
    Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

    The science of herding is cracked

    Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
    Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

    This tyrant doesn’t rule

    It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?
    Rachael Lander interview: From strung out to playing strings

    From strung out to playing strings

    Award-winning cellist Rachael Lander’s career was almost destroyed by the alcohol she drank to fight stage fright. Now she’s playing with Elbow and Ellie Goulding
    The science of saturated fat: A big fat surprise about nutrition?

    A big fat surprise about nutrition?

    The science linking saturated fats to heart disease and other health issues has never been sound. Nina Teicholz looks at how governments started advising incorrectly on diets
    Emmys 2014 review: Can they genuinely compete with the Oscars

    Can they genuinely compete with the Oscars?

    The recent Emmy Awards are certainly glamorous, but they can't beat their movie cousins
    On the road to nowhere: A Routemaster trip to remember

    On the road to nowhere

    A Routemaster trip to remember
    Hotel India: Mumbai's Taj Mahal Palace leaves its darker days behind

    Hotel India

    Mumbai's Taj Mahal Palace leaves its darker days behind
    10 best pencil cases

    Back to school: 10 best pencil cases

    Whether it’s their first day at school, uni or a new project, treat the student in your life to some smart stationery
    Arsenal vs Besiktas Champions League qualifier: Gunners know battle with Turks is a season-defining fixture

    Arsenal know battle with Besiktas is a season-defining fixture

    Arsene Wenger admits his below-strength side will have to improve on last week’s show to pass tough test
    Pete Jenson: Athletic Bilbao’s locals-only transfer policy shows success does not need to be bought

    Pete Jenson: A Different League

    Athletic Bilbao’s locals-only transfer policy shows success does not need to be bought
    This guitar riff has been voted greatest of all time

    The Greatest Guitar Riff of all time

    Whole Lotta Votes from Radio 2 listeners
    Britain’s superstar ballerina

    Britain’s superstar ballerina

    Alicia Markova danced... every night of the week and twice on Saturdays
    Berlin's Furrie invasion

    Berlin's Furrie invasion

    2000 fans attended Eurofeurence
    ‘It was a tidal wave of terror’

    ‘It was a tidal wave of terror’

    Driven to the edge by postpartum psychosis