Imelda Staunton is a brilliant actress and I haven't seen her in a play that truly matches her talents until now.
In David Lindsay-Abaire's Good People she plays the fast-talking Margaret who has just got sacked from her job working on the check-out at the dollar store because she is always late. Margaret lives in the projects in "Southie", the predominantly Irish suburb of Boston, where jobs are hard to come by and gossip and bingo provide the diversions from the hardships.
Margaret is a single mum of a disabled daughter relying on an unreliable neighbour to babysit. Faced with not being able to pay the rent she turns to a former childhood beau Mike (Lloyd Owen), who has made good as a doctor, for help in getting a job.
Good People examines the ethos of the American Dream and whether it is luck or hard work that leads to success. Will good, industrious people always prosper? Despite Margaret and Mike sharing a background their stories are very different but is this down to choice and application? Was Mike a good egg who merely took advantage of the opportunities presented to him, grafting hard to earn his escape into a nice house, in a nice suburb and a "comfortable" life? And by the same token did Margaret make bad choices, squandering opportunities and end up with the life she deserved?
The truth of the piece is in its rounded characters and the questions it raises about circumstance and opportunity. The respect is in not writing caricature or cliche. The result is a play that is thought-provoking, moving, funny and entertaining. Imelda Staunton is a tour de force and a joy to watch as is Lorraine Ashbourne who plays her friend Jean.
I missed Good People at Hampstead Theatre but it came strongly recommended which led me to grabbing a ticket to see it on its West End transfer. It is a welcome and refreshing production amid the predominantly safe and classic offerings you can see in town at present.
Good People is booking at the Noel Coward Theatre until June 14 and there is a short trailer/interview with Imelda Staunton and Lloyd Owen here.
Now Imelda Staunton was at the BAFTA's last year as was Mr W and while in my head they had a good old chin-wag, I can't find any actual evidence of them meeting. So I'm resorting to a second degree connection until such time as evidence of interaction is unearthed or, even better, they work together. And that second degree connection is that Imelda worked with Tim Pigott-Smith in A Delicate Balance at the Almeida and the later was in The Hour. I'm sure there are plenty more connections but I like that one having recently seen TP-S play Charles III on stage.