Good People at the Hampstead
If our life is determined by the choices we make, you’d be forgiven for thinking Margaret Walsh must have made some bad ones. We meet her, as she is getting fired from her job on the tills of a budget shop. She is consistently late, she explains in exasperated garbles, because the lady who looks after her disabled daughter also has a somewhat casual approach to time keeping. No amount of assurances that she will improve, or offers of a pay cut are enough to prevent Margaret from being let go by her pen-pushing boss.
Imelda Staunton’s Margaret, Margie to her friends, is desperate; that much is clear from the get-go. She lives in Southie, Boston’s gritty, blue-collar district, and spends her life scraping and saving to make the rent and to pay for her now adult daughter’s care. It is this grinding hand-to-mouth existence that forms the focus of David Lindsay-Abaire’s Good People, a play that is as much about who we are as where we come from.
The story revolves (quite literally, thanks to Hildegard Bechtler’s set) around Margie’s attempts to be the breadwinner she is required to be. An opportunity presents itself for her to capitalise on a reunion with a former childhood friend, now a successful and wealthy doctor (Lloyd Owen), and Margie sets out to prove her worth.
The play deals with some serious social issues; it is a particularly potent commentary of the financial crisis in American cities, where the polarity between the rundown dollar stores of the inner city working class and the cheese and wine nights of suburbia are tearing further and further apart.
Staunton is magnificent in transforming herself into the brazen, unrefined Margie, whose unburdened bluntness provides the play with its biting humour that is so well observed.
The genius of Good People is in its acutely observed social commentary that is as poignant as it is funny. Imelda Staunton is nothing less than superb as Margie, a character who, despite being the “mouthie from Southie”, is deeply complex, in a way we can only truly appreciate with hindsight.
Good People is on at Hampstead Theatre until 5th April, for further information or to book visit here.