Writer: C P Taylor
Director: Polly Findlay
Reviewer: Dave Cunningham
Professor Halder (Adrian Rawlins) sees himself as a good man but his life is hard. In 1930s Germany he struggles with a scatterbrained wife and an ailing and fractious mother. As the pressure increases Halder begins to imagine that he can hear music. An opportunity for advancement arises when the Nazi party interpret one of his books on euthanasia as an endorsement of their policy of eugenics and ask him to join the Party. Halder struggles to convince himself that his actions are in the best interests of society and to justify himself to his best friend (Kerry Shale) who is Jewish.
At a time of coalition government and politicians who use pragmatism to excuse their lack of principle a revival of C P Taylor’s ‘ GOOD’ is timely. But that doesn’t make it easy to stage. Director Polly Findlay has picked a challenging play for her Royal Exchange debut. With the protagonist making constant asides to the audience the play could become self consciously stagy and the over-lapping and switching between scenes could confuse. Most of all there is the fact that the show is, despite the subject matter, a musical comedy.
Findley copes admirably by treating the source material with respect and staging with clarity and style. Some scenes are so funny that you almost forget that you’re watching someone who may be suffering from mental illness and is certainly making terrible decisions. But is it hard to resist Rawlins struggling to comprehend how a symphony could be issuing from his coffee pot and to watch him interact with his illusions. With this light touch Findlay ensures that points glide, rather than thud, home and the darkening of mood in the second act has all the more impact.
Musical director Tim Van Eyken ensures great variety in the increasingly surreal musical interludes. This culminates in the Mardi Gras from hell that ends act one and shows that his country shares Halder’s descent into psychosis.
James Cotterill’s darkly imaginative set design creates the striking opening and closing moments that establish the mood for Halder’s damnation. He also offers a symbolic blast of fire for a book burning that really makes you sit up.
The play is told from the perspective of Professor Halder. Rawlins does not allow himself the relief of making Halder a big bad villain and takes the more demanding approach of showing that Halder’s neurosis is due to his self-obsession .It is difficult to feel sympathy for such a character but Rawlins makes him human to the extent that his actions are at least understandable if not admirable. He portrays the panicky behaviour of someone aware of the consequences of his actions for others and increasingly fearful of being found out. Rawlins’ performance makes it horribly easy to question whether you would behave any better in the circumstances. His rationalisations of the benefits of book-burning and even genocide have a frightening familiarity in the age of political spin.
Kerry Shale plays Halder’s best friend, Maurice, expressing the rage and bewilderment of someone who loves his country more than his race and is unable to accept the horror that is approaching. Shale creates a Banquo’s ghost although his American accent does occasionally seem out of place. There is fine support all round including Richard Goulding’s hearty party member, Freddie, who hypocritically conceals his love of jazz and Beth Park as Halder’s wife, Anne, subtly beginning to share his hypocrisy and blame the victims
The Royal Exchange is continuing its tradition of offering challenging plays and that is very, very GOOD news .
Photo: Jonathan Keenan
GOOD is at the Royal Exchange in Manchester from 12th October to 5th November, 2001