Good People, Hampstead Theatre – This mouthie from Southie will tell it as it is.

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You might have seen Imelda Staunton in many roles both on stage and in films but I can assure you that you have never seen her as the middle-aged Margie from downtrodden South Boston and really, you should.  We first encounter Margie in the back alley of the local Dollar Store as she is getting fired from her $9.10/hour job.  She implores her boss Stevie, a young man she knew as a baby, to allow her to keep her job to support herself and her severely handicapped daughter.  But Stevie is feeling the heat from head office and won’t accept her lateness excuses anymore.

Good People - Imelda Staunton (Margie) and Matthew Barker (Stevie)

Good People – Imelda Staunton (Margie) and Matthew Barker (Stevie)

Margie is a though cookie from a poor neighbourhood and when threatened she is not immune to trying to use blackmail to keep her job.  She knew Stevie’s mum and is quick to remind him of the shoplifting incident that landed his mum in jail on Christmas eve or even to let him know what people say behind his back as a result of his fondness for bingo.   We think we know what kind of person Margie is, coming from a poor, close-knit community such as Southie, but you would be mistaken.

Margie is surrounded by a couple of bejewelled, teased hair, working class, foul-mouthed, bingo-playing friends who give her the idea of approaching Mike Dillon, a former Southie native who has become a fertility doctor and left the old neighbourhood behind.  Mike, who she hasn’t seen for 30 years, is also Margie’s ex from high school.

Good People by David Lindsay-Abaire’s, who won the Pulitzer Price for his play Rabbit Hole in 2007, takes us into territory that has been explored recently in film such as Mystic Riverand Ben Affleck’s The Town and Gone Baby Gone, to name just a few.  This working-class, poorly educated, debt-strapped American community where people are born and most likely will die, never having escaped the poverty, is ripe for drama and Mr. Lindsay-Abaire does a very fine job of showing us a world that is not so dissimilar to so many communities around England.

This might sound like a dire night out but let me reassure you that it is nothing of the sort.  The play is character driven and touches on luck, hard work, how we take good and bad decisions, in a moving and often very funny way.  The story unfolds without the now too frequent use of events or actions that often stretch credibility.  Mr. Lindsay-Abairegrew up in South Boston and gives us some very believable and human characters that, though we can’t always agree with, are consistent in their personalities.

Margie wrangles an invitation to Mike’s birthday party, a lavish catered affair at his home.  She turns up hoping to find a possible job from one of the guests but the conversation with Mike soon descends into Margie accusing Mike of having reneged on his old neighbourhood, of having betrayed his class, and being all  “lace-curtain Irish”.  But Mike’s inner Southie beast re-emerges when Margie pushes the right buttons.

The arguments aren’t black and white and that’s what makes for great drama.  Mike preaches at the altar of hard work but Margie is quick to remind him that luck and the support of his community also played a big part in his success and that what Mike has mythologised as his tough childhood upbringing might be somewhat different to the reality.  The play touches on who can and cannot escape from such neighbourhoods but also takes a hard look at the choices these characters make and how these have shaped their lives and how small innocuous events can have such effects on our fate.  For Mike, Margie has been unable to get her act together and that’s her fault.

Directed in a great production by Jonathan Kent, Ms Staunton is fantastic as the working class American Southie and I urge you to go and see one of the best theatre performances on stage this year.  I know, it’s only March 2nd but I am that confident of my prediction.  Lloyd Owen as Mike is all assurance and skilfully amnesiac about his past.  Loraine Ashbourne as Jean is funny, warm and definitely the friend you want on your side.  June Watson as Dottie is your mean self-interested landlady who masquerades as your friend in this bare-knuckle world.  Mathew Barker is very good as the humane store manager having to navigate this harsh world. And, Angel Coulby is excellent as the intellectual and worldly doctor’s wife.  The beautiful set include revolve is designed by Hildegard Bechtler.

This fantastic piece of writing, which was nominated for a Tony in 2011 for its New York production, gives us a truly memorable central character in Margie.   She is full of paradoxes, at once kind, hard working and determined while also sly and hard but ultimately she self-sabotages her own life with her inability to follow-through with her actions.  Go meet her.

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