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

Arts and Entertainment
music Malik left the Asian leg of the band's world tour after being signed off with stress last week
News
Author J.K. Rowling attends photocall ahead of her reading from 'The Casual Vacancy' at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on September 27, 2012 in London, England.
peopleNot the first time the author has defended Dumbledore's sexuality
News
‘The Late Late Show’ presenter James Corden is joined by Mila Kunis and Tom Hanks for his first night as host
news
Arts and Entertainment
Joanne Harris, author of Chocolat and Blackberry Wine, wrote a blog post attacking the app and questioning its apparent 'strong Christian bias'
books
Arts and Entertainment
Leading light: Sharma in London

books
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth (Heida Reed) and Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) in the BBC's remake of their 1975 original Poldark

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig as James Bond in Skyfall

Mexican government reportedly paying Bond producers for positive portrayal in new filmfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Disney’s flying baby elephant is set to return in live-action format
filmWith sequels, prequels and spin-offs, Disney plays it safe... and makes a pachyderm
Arts and Entertainment
Nazrin with Syf, Camden
photography
News
The QI Elves photographed at the Soho Theatre. They are part of a team of researchers who find facts for the television programme 'QI'.
people
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv0-star review: Sean O'Grady gives it his best shot anyway
News
Brooke Magnanti believes her reputation has been damaged by the claim
books
Arts and Entertainment
A large fire has broken out in London's historic Battersea Arts Centre
art
Arts and Entertainment
Orla Brady as Anne Meredith, MyAnna Buring as Elizabeth Quinn and Joanna Vanderham as Katherine McVitie in Banished
tvReview: Despite the gritty setting, this drama is as fluffy and soppy as a soap opera
Arts and Entertainment
Julianne Moore and co-director Richard Glatzer, standing, on the set during the filming of ‘Still Alice’ in New York
film
Arts and Entertainment
Great British Sewing Bee finalist Matt Chapple
tvReview: He wowed the judges with an avant garde dress
Arts and Entertainment
Driven to the edge: 'Top Gear' producer Oisin Tymon is said to have had a row with Clarkson
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Nazi officer Matthias Schoenaerts embarks on an affair with married French woman Michelle Williams in 'Suite Francaise'
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Prime movers: Caitriona Balfe (centre) and the cast of Outlander
TV
News
Feasting with panthers: Keynes
books
Arts and Entertainment
Strung out: Mumford & Sons
music
Arts and Entertainment
Avant-garde: Bjork
music
Arts and Entertainment
Despite a decade of reform, prosecutions and convictions of rape has remained consistently low
arts + entsAcademic and author Joanna Bourke in warning to arts world
Arts and Entertainment
Electro Velvet, made up of Alex Larke and Bianca Nicholas, will represent the UK at the Eurovision Song Contest 2015
music
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
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.

    Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

    The future of GM

    The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
    Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

    Britain's mild winters could be numbered

    Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
    Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

    The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

    The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
    Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

    Cowslips vs honeysuckle

    It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
    Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss
    Tony Blair joins a strange and exclusive club of political leaders whose careers have been blighted by the Middle East

    Blair has joined a strange and exclusive club

    A new tomb has just gone up in the Middle East's graveyard of US and British political reputations, says Patrick Cockburn
    Election 2015: Meet the top 12 wacky candidates seeking your vote in May

    Election 2015

    Meet the top 12 wacky candidates seeking your vote in May
    Countdown to the election: Operation Save Danny Alexander shifts into high gear as the SNP target his Commons seat

    Operation Save Danny Alexander shifts into high gear

    The Chief Secretary to the Treasury didn’t forget his Highland roots in the Budget. But the SNP is after his Commons seat
    The US economy is under threat because of its neglected infrastructure

    The US is getting frayed at the edges

    Public spending on infrastructure is only half of Europe’s, and some say the nation’s very prosperity is threatened, says Rupert Cornwell
    Mad Men final episodes: Museum exhibition just part of the hoopla greeting end of 1960s-set TV hit

    New Yorkers raise a glass to Mad Men

    A museum exhibition is just part of the hoopla greeting the final run of the 1960s-set TV hit
    Land speed record: British-built hybrid rocket car aims to be the fastest on Earth

    British-built hybrid rocket car aims to be the fastest on Earth

    Bloodhound SSC will attempt to set a new standard in South Africa's Kalahari desert
    Housebuilders go back to basics by using traditional methods and materials

    Housebuilders go back to basics - throwing mud at the wall until it sticks

    Traditional materials are ticking all the construction boxes: they are cheap, green – and anyone can use them
    Daniel Brühl: 'When you have success abroad, you become a traitor. Envy is very German'

    Daniel Brühl: 'Envy is very German'

    He's got stick for his golden acting career and for his beloved restaurant - but Daniel Brühl is staying put in Berlin (where at least the grannies love him)
    How Leica transformed photography for ever: Celebrating 100 years of the famous camera

    Celebrating 100 years of Leica

    A new book reveals how this elegant, lightweight box of tricks would transform the way we saw life on the street and in fashion, on the battlefield and across the world