Review: Good


by Mike Matthaiakis

In CP Taylor’s play “Good,” a chilling exploration of Germany’s descent into Nazism, we follow the trajectory of Professor Halder, portrayed by David Tennant, as he undergoes a disturbing transformation from an ostensibly “good” man to a participant in the horrors of the Nazi regime. The play, set against the backdrop of 1930s Germany, carefully unfolds the psychological drama of Halder’s moral unraveling.

The stage, designed by Vicki Mortimer, is intentionally confined, stark, and devoid of the symbols and grandeur associated with the Third Reich. This minimalist setting enhances the intense focus on the characters and their internal struggles. With only three actors—Tennant, Elliot Levey, and Sharon Small—the production delivers a powerful and disconcerting theatrical experience.

The narrative, often perceived as an examination of moral corruption, captures Halder’s gradual embrace of Nazism. Director Dominic Cooke skillfully navigates the discursive nature of the play, building tension until it culminates in a psychological crescendo. The characters’ inner thoughts intertwine with the dialogue, creating an atmosphere reminiscent of a fever dream.

The scenes transition abruptly, keeping the audience on edge. Levey and Small skillfully portray multiple roles, adding complexity to Halder’s relationships with his family, friends, and lovers. The female characters may come across as deliberately one-dimensional or shrill, contributing to the disorienting nature of the narrative.

Music plays a crucial role throughout the production, incorporating banned sounds of jazz, swing, and classical compositions. This auditory layer adds to the discombobulating effect, heightening the sense of unease and contributing to the overall hallucinogenic atmosphere.

The play’s strangeness, its unconventional scale, and non-sequential elements are justified by a surprising reveal at the end. While the payoff may not be entirely unexpected, the intrigue, intellect, and outstanding performances maintain the audience’s captivation.

David Tennant delivers a spellbinding performance, portraying Halder’s ordinariness while exposing the venality beneath. Levey, as the lovable Maurice, shifts between desperation and tragic silences with poignant precision.

What makes “Good” both fascinating and appalling is its exploration of Halder’s active complicity in joining the Nazi party. He becomes a zealot not out of ideological fervor but due to personal flattery and a lack of principled resistance. Tennant unnervingly conveys that Halder’s slide into inhumanity is driven by a failure to care for others and a lack of belief in anything substantial.

As a thought-provoking drama, “Good” prompts reflection on the denials that pave the way for populism’s descent into perilous territories. It resonates as a cautionary tale for contemporary times, urging contemplation on standing up to despotism and the true meanings of courage and cowardice. The play challenges preconceived notions about the title’s “good,” revealing that it refers not to a good man turned bad but to a man who turns bad by prioritizing his own good above all else—a chilling journey towards dead-eyed evil.

Good, is at the Harold Pinter Theatre.