Good at the Royal Exchange Theatre

We’ve rarely been disappointed at the Exchange and we arrived last night hoping the evening’s performance, and our inaugural Manchester Weekender event, would be no exception.

It wasn’t. Good is a play that is hard to forget, one that will roll around in our minds for some time to come.

This production of C.P. Taylor’s 1981 classic, directed by Polly Findlay, tells the story of Professor Haldler, an academic living in 1930s Germany who is struggling to balance the responsibilities of an infirm mother and a hapless wife with a burgeoning infatuation with his student.

To deal with his frustration at his mother’s declining health he writes a pro-euthanasia novel that catches the attention of the Nazi Party, who enlist his services to add ethical weight to their anti-Semitic policies. At crucial moments of moral choice Hadler’s tendency to imagine beautiful music playing leads to him making ethically dubious decisions, almost without him realizing the impact of his actions until it is too late.

The action unfolds in a series of overlapping scenes that act as a means of deliberately disorienting the audience. This device leaves you feeling empathetic with Hadler, played by Adrian Rawlins. We switch from a scene with his mother, to his Jewish friend, to his wife, to his love interest, all the time witnessing how Hadler’s attention is constantly moved from the moral focus of his predicament by his own musical delusions.

With its multitalented cast Good was a show filled with tight performances. Particular highlights involved the switch from straight acting to musical performance. And the climatic scene of the first half was a delight, complete with light pyrotechnics – the description on the Exchange’s website of “1984 meets Cabaret” is entirely apt.

After the opening minutes, you become quickly acclimatized to this pace, and begin to share the disorientation of the main character. The musical interludes seamlessly integrate and feel entirely believable as a means of distracting Hadler from the situations of those around him.

The main question Good asks is “what would you do?” if faced with the same situation and the same choices. It is a question subtly asked; implicit in the creation of an emotional reality so complete, but also one regularly broken by dramatic techniques.

With the demands placed upon him by the supporting characters you can, as a viewer, sympathize with Hadler; however, in one of the final scenes between Hadler and his Jewish friend Maurice I actually wanted to get out of my seat and slap the central character, for sleepwalking from a position of sympathetic protagonist to an attempt to convince his now deceased friend, and himself in the process, that the actions of the Nazi Party are entirely justifiable and are, in fact, the fault of the German Jewish population.

The performances were, without exception, extremely accomplished, showcasing faultlessly how each character around Hadler is so wrapped up in their own psyche and the intricacies of their own experience that they have few faculties left with which to explore the wider implications of their actions.

Good runs until the 5th November, and we would certainly urge you to go and see the play for yourself. Tickets can be booked through the Royal Exchange website, and as always significant discounts are available for people under 26.

Part one of a four part series in conjunction with All Points North, providing coverage of Manchester Weekender and other regional festivals.

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