Hampstead Theatre in North West London is really coming into its own as a home for bracing contemporary American drama. After the UK premiere of Gina Gionfriddo's 2012 Off-Broadway play Rapture, Blister, Burn, it now offers David Lindsay-Abaire's play Good People, originally premiered on Broadway in 2011, that blisters and burns in other ways.
This is a stinging play about clashes of class and the past that collide in an alternately crushing and tender dissection of one woman's desperate plight. She's Margaret, a survivor and a single mother to a severely disabled daughter. But as the play opens, she's being fired from her job in a dollar store, and she's desperate.
The play that follows offers constant surprises in plotting, character and texture. Lindsay-Abaire offers a very culturally specific portrait of a particular community -- one he came from himself, amongst the working classes of South Boston, an area that also provided the setting for the films "Good Will Hunting" and "The Departed". He knows this world intimately, but he also knows what it is to escape from it.
That's what Margaret's former boyfriend Mike has done. Now a successful doctor, he's married a college teacher of English literature. And when Margaret swallows her dignity to ask him for a job, their lives come back into each other's intimate orbit. I don't want to give away how and why: Lindsay-Abaire's play is never obvious, and sees the world through a different lens from dollar store and bingo hall on the one hand to the doctor's plush consulting rooms and elegant home on the other. (Hildegard Bechtler's fast-changing sets are a particular triumph).
But above all it affords an opportunity for a performance of immense feeling and dignity by Imelda Staunton as Margaret. She has long been one of our very best and most versatile stage actresses, and here offers an alternately tough yet heartbreaking portrait of a woman doing what it takes to survive.
Jonathan Kent's riveting production is shot through with fine performances from a terrific cast that also includes Lloyd Owen as Mike, Angel Coulby as his wife, and Matthew Barker as the dollar store manager that make this one of the most piercingly poignant evenings in town.
"... an absolute cracker ... tough, genuinely funny and often deeply moving."
Charles Spencer for The Telegraph
"What I like about the play is that it is never as straightforward as it looks."
Michael Billington for The Guardian
"I approached Good People with fairly low expectations ... 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."
Paul Taylor for The Independent
"Good People has a Good Cast and it is another success for the resurgent Hampstead."
Quentin Letts for The Daily Mail
"Imelda Staunton is on sensational form ..."
Henry Hitchings for The Evening Standard