Out of Town
West End’s Great Play, Good
“If I am not for myself then who is for me?” This is the line and the main underlying thought process that lives deep inside CP Taylor’s fascinatingly intense play, Good, which was revived at the West End’s Harold Pinter Theatre in the fall of 2022. Lucky for me, I was able to find my way into seeing it during our typical, but long overdue theatre extravaganza trip to London, UK last November. I had no frame of reference walking in, basically drawn to the play by its star power, David Tennant, who after watching him (and the breathtakingly good Olivia Colman) in the magnificent “Broadchurch” over the pandemic lockdown, I couldn’t resist seeing Tennant live on stage. But it really was my fellow theatre junkie who knew the play from its run in Chicago, and definitively told me, “yes, we have to”.
The program, bought immediately upon arrival at the theatre, had some compelling power over me when we sat down and I started to flip through the pages. Inside, it had a “Timeline of the Nazis in Power” from 1933 to 1945, and with that history laid out before me, I knew we were in for an emotional ride. I just had no idea how this ride would play out, and just how good Good was going to be. Written by CP Taylor, a writer of more than seventy plays from Glasgow who died in 1981 at the age of 52, the fantastically constructed play is a slow dive into the corrupting of a ‘good’ soul. It’s a complicated compelling dynamic wrapped in a conceptualized unpacking that seems very fitting to the modern world we find ourselves living in.
The play starts out in 1933 and follows a man, Professor Halder, played gloriously by Tennant (Donmar/West End’s Lobby Hero) navigating his way through Germany during the years that follow as Nazism grows in power and influence. It’s about an intelligent man, who in an early scene is outraged when reading about a friendship that dissolved because of an outright dismissal and betrayal that occurred between Beethoven and Goethe, yet during Good Halder descends into his own brutal betrayal of the same dear friend he tells this story to. That friend, Halder’s best, seated by his side, is Maurice, played wonderfully by Elliot Levey (West End’s Cabaret at the Kit Kat Club). He is a well-off Jewish man feeling the threat of the Third Reich breathing down his neck and is turning to his friend for understanding and possibly some assistance. The friendship is clear, but the response is more complicated than good.
The German professor seems unbothered by the threat, at least that’s what he vocalizes, telling his friend not to worry, and that it will all soon pass. We understand why he says that, especially today, after all we have witnessed in the last few years in America. Halder doesn’t see it as clearly as we do, never acknowledging the rise of antisemitism, nor its threat, mainly because it does not have its eyes focused on him. The play hangs in that realm, a place we can easily connect to, as we watch this ‘good’ man sidestep the obvious. He wants and likes his situation, and is determined, subtly, to find his way through, navigating the system while continually discounting what is happening around him, to himself, and to his friend. He’s a ‘good’ man, he keeps telling himself, but we can’t help but notice his simple, passive slide into nazism, even if he can’t see it himself. Or is it that he doesn’t want to because he’s benefiting from his own denial?
Surrounded on all sides by a stellar cast that includes the magnificently subtle Sharon Small (Donmar’s The Trials) as Helen (and numerous other well-crafted parts), Good digs itself in deep, unpacking the fascinating blind conversion of a man into a Nazi, one step at a time, shredding apart his consciousness and exposing his feverish denial of what he himself is doing. It’s chilling and disturbing, to say the least, as the confinement is accentuated by a grey-walled enclosure created with a strength of knowledge by set and costume designer Vicki Mortimer (NT’s The Threepenny Opera), with compelling lighting by Zoe Spurr (Old Red Lion’s Tiny Dynamite) and a strong sound design by Tom Gibbons (YoungVic/West End’s Best of Enemies). It walls us into the confined space, like a cell without air, tightening itself around those souls as history presents itself in hidden compartments aflame with hatred and violence.
As laid out by director Dominic Cooke (National Theatre’s Follies), the reveals and the atrocities hang in the air, infecting the three main actors as they live, breathe, and ride out this psychological descent with precision. The scenes shift and morph before our eyes, as we watch the moralities of the professor slip off his shoulders with one rationalization after another. One minute he is dining with his friend Maurice, and soon after he has enlisted in the Nazi party. Music, arranged and composed by Will Stuart (Garrick’s The Drifters), also floats and unearths the headspace of Halder, strangely explaining and delivering forth ideas and abstract conceptualizations etched in burnt threads of music and literature. The added layers of rationalizations and survival instincts are played out in tonal jazz and classical music, until the crash and burn come with a vengeance.
The bareness and the bland tones play with our senses, keeping us solely centered on the fine actors inhabiting that small space. It forces us to stay tuned in, even as we become more uncomfortable. Good lays out a compelling argument and sampling, drenching the characters in desperation and betrayal. Tennant is impossibly good, holding us tight to his chest as he listens to banned music and reads the books he is burning outside his door. We want to pull away from him, but we have a hard time disconnecting from his authenticity, even as we watch him betray, passively, his best friend when he needs him the most. The rationale is heart-breaking and brutal but etched in a kind of authenticity that is difficult to breathe in.
Levey as the lovable Maurice delivers the friendship forward, even as desperation and silence take him under. We can’t look away in these moments when windows and lives are smashed and broken around the two. It’s a horrific betrayal to take in, fascinating and disturbing in every sense. Yet, Halder is simply doing what he is told to do, which, he feels, he must do, in order to survive this moment. He is an active member of the party, while reminding himself over and over again that he is not antisemitic, and ultimately a ‘good’ man. We hear that, but it doesn’t hang well on him as we also know he still joined the SS and carried out their/his orders. And he has benefited from them more and more, as we watch the man, step by step, climb up that Nazi ladder. All while the band played on.
The reveal shows itself, finally, dressing itself up before our eyes, and delivering the final few punches that hit hard on our conscious understanding. But to see it clearly before us is another thing, and one we can’t find any way to deny what’s right there in black and red, and striped gray. Tennant and Small convey the message solidly in the finale, reassuring themselves of something that doesn’t sit well in our hearts. Good wants us to take that in, and understand the ideological stance that can turn someone into something horrifically bad, someone blind to what’s happening because it serves them well to see the world this way. It happened in Nazi Germany, and it is raising its ugly hand now in the rise of populism in different areas of the world. And if we can’t see it building around us, and call it out, will we have the strength to stand up against it when the time comes? Or maybe before it even fully gets here. That’s the question of the ages. Halder puts forth that initial question, quoting from the Talmud. “If I am not for myself, then who is for me?” and we can see exactly how easily a betrayal can grow up from that stance. If we let it. And boy, I hope we do find the courage the next time it is required.
The Olivier Awards Return
Celebrate the very best in British theatre in a star-studded evening as the Olivier Awards return to the Royal Albert Hall on April 2nd.
Three-time Olivier Award nominee & Primetime Emmy winner, Hannah Waddingham will be hosting the awards for the first time.
The event will feature performances from all of the Best New Musical nominees, including The Band’s Visit, Standing At The Sky’s Edge, Sylvia and Tammy Faye. Also performing will be Oklahoma! and Sister Act, both nominated for the Best Musical Revival award, as well as Disney’s Newsies, which has been nominated for Matt Cole’s choreography.
The multi-Olivier Award winner The Book of Mormon, will be performing to mark its ten-year anniversary in the West End. Additionally, special award winner Arlene Philips will be honored with a tribute from the cast of Grease.
The ceremony will be broadcast live on Magic Radio from 6pm with Ruthie Henshall and Alice Arnold hosting.
The highlights program will also be aired on ITV1 and ITVX at 10:15 pm in the UK and via Official London Theatre’s YouTube channel elsewhere.
And the nominees are:
Out of Town
The Unpacking of the First Métis Man of Odesa, An Interview
Punctuate! Theatre is unpacking a love story. A love story about a couple. A love story about Ukraine. And a love story against an unbelievably complicated backdrop. Starting at The Theatre Centre in Toronto, the company is ushering forth the world premiere of First Métis Man of Odesa before it spins itself out on stages across Canada. Spanning continents and set against the backdrop of the COVID pandemic and the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Métis playwright and Punctuate! Artistic Director, Matthew MacKenzie (Dora Award-winning playwright for Bears, After the Fire, The Particulars) joins forces with his wife, the award-winning Ukrainian actress Mariya Khomutova (Odesa Film Festival Grand Prix – The Golden Duke award-winner NONNA, Two People), to tell the story of their COVID courtship and share an intimate perspective on the personal impacts of the ongoing war in Ukraine.
Drawn from their real-life love story, a story that is ultimately still unfolding to this very day, First Métis Man of Odesa unpacks the journey of Matt and Masha’s love that spans continents where distance and conflicts can’t tame their passionate connection. After meeting on a theatre research trip in Kyiv, a spark is struck, and a romance between a Métis Playwright and a Ukrainian artist is ignited, taking them from the beaches of the Black Sea to the banks of the North Saskatchewan River, within the onset of a global pandemic, the eruption of a brutal war, but also the many joyous moments that this union begets, including marriage and the birth of their son.
During the height of the lockdown in 2021, an initial version of this piece was presented as a radio play at Factory Theatre, written by MacKenzie and directed by Nina Lee Aquino. This March, First Métis Man of Odesa, as directed by Lianna Makuch (Pyretic Productions/Punctuate!’s Barvinok), makes its stage debut, offering a compelling continuation of the initial story told in that first radio play. The couple, Matthew MacKenzie and his wife, Mariya Khomutova, sat down with Frontmezzjunkies and thankfully answered a few questions about their incredible journey from that first love-struck connection to its World Premiere at The Theatre Centre in Toronto.
Tell me, how you decided to embark on telling your own story and what the beginning of this creative process looked like for you two?
Initially, Matt wrote an audio play for Factory Theatre about our romance, then getting married and having their son during the pandemic. The plan had been to expand the piece for the stage, a plan that took on much urgency after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
Both the pandemic and war have a deeply dehumanizing effect, so our hope in telling our love story is to share the human side of these major world events; a human side that headlines and news clips can’t fully capture.
What aspect of your character, or your involvement with/creation of this play resonates the most powerfully inside you?
For both of us, the opportunity to share all the joy, humour, anger, and frustration we’ve experienced in the past few years is a really therapeutic process. Many of our friends and family only know snippets of what we’ve been through, so the opportunity to tell our story across the country is one we are deeply grateful for.
The phrase “you don’t know what someone is carrying with them” has really hit home over the past couple of years, as we have had to contend with some pretty epic challenges as a couple and as individuals.
Tell me a bit about what it is like to bring your character to the stage? What does mean to you to be telling this story?
We play ourselves in the play, but we very much play versions of ourselves in the play. We had to mine conflict between us out of a few outbursts, as there haven’t actually been a lot of [conflicts] in our relationship so that we could bring the drama of what we are going through to the fore.
Challenges of playing ourselves have included the fact that [Matt] is not a trained actor, while Mariya is. Mariya though comes from a theatre tradition that was almost entirely focused on the classics, so playing herself in a play based on her life is definitely a new and challenging experience!
Tell me a bit more about your development process? Was there a typical ‘first read’ or was it different, given your own story inspired the work…
We were able to conduct several development workshops over a period of six months. There was no shortage of content that we could derive from our lives, so the challenge was determining what to keep and what to let fall away. Even after our first read, we cut 15 pages from our rehearsal draft. Events in our lives and in Ukraine will no doubt continue to necessitate the evolution of our script.
What’s been the most challenging part of this process for you?
For Mariya, it was buying into the idea (that is quite a common one in Canada) that a play about someone’s real life can be art. Seeing Hailey Gillis’s My Ex-boyfriend Yard Sale, really helped her believe this was possible.
For Matt, it met the challenge of performing for the first time in ten years. The last time he performed, he made his friends promise they would never let him perform again, but all agreed it didn’t make much sense for anyone else to play him in this piece.
The most rewarding?
Having already performed several shows in Kamloops, the most rewarding part of this process is sharing this story with refugees from Ukraine. Their responses have been incredible and have really encouraged us to share our story with as many people as possible.
What do you want the audience to get from this play, and from your character?
We want the audience to join us as we relive our sweeping love story, from Odesa to Toronto. We want the audience to see the human side of the conflict in Ukraine. And we want the audience to leave the theatre with the hope that love can and will conquer all.
First Métis Man of Odesa is in Toronto for its world premiere run at the Franco Boni Theatre @ The Theatre Centre from March 30 – April 8, 2023 (opening March 31). Following the world premiere in Toronto, First Métis Man of Odesa will appear at the Citadel Theatre in Edmonton, The Cultch in Vancouver, and the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre in Winnipeg. For information and tickets, please visit theatrecentre.org/event/first-metis-man-of-odesa/
Florence Welch, Martyna Majok, Rachel Chavkin and More On New Musical Gatsby Coming To A.R.T
Florence Welch Photo by De Wilde
Producers Amanda Ghost and Len Blavatnik for Unigram/Access Entertainment, Jordan Roth, and American Repertory Theater(A.R.T.) at Harvard University announced today that Gatsby, a brand-new musical stage adaptation of the legendary F. Scott Fitzgerald novel, will make its highly anticipated World Premiere at A.R.T. in 2024, and will be directed by Tony Award® winner Rachel Chavkin and choreographed by Tony Award winner Sonya Tayeh.
Gatsby will feature music by Florence Welch, the Grammy Award-nominated international rock star of Florence + the Machine and Thomas Bartlett, the Oscar and Grammy Award nominee, with lyrics by Ms. Welch, and a book by Pulitzer Prize® winner Martyna Majok.
Gatsby will be produced at American Repertory Theater by special arrangement with Amanda Ghost and Len Blavatnik for Unigram/Access Entertainment, and Jordan Roth, in association with Robert Fox. Hannah Giannoulis serves as co-producer.
American Repertory Theater (Diane Paulus, Terrie and Bradley Bloom Artistic Director; Kelvin Dinkins, Jr., Executive Director) at Harvard University produces groundbreaking work to catalyze dialogue and transformation. Tony Award-winning and nominated productions include Jagged Little Pill; Waitress; Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812; All the Way; The Glass Menagerie; Pippin; Once; and The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess. Its revival of 1776, a co-production with Roundabout Theatre Company, is currently touring nationally. Learn more at AmericanRepertoryTheater.org.
Additional Gatsby news will be announced soon.
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