Good at the Donmar Warehouse
C P Taylor's Good, set during the early years of Nazism, is a chilling account of how an ordinary German citizen is absorbed into the regime's brutally efficient machinery and used as an instrument of genocide. Written twenty years ago, the play still has a great deal of resonance, especially during these dark days of ethnic cleansing in the Balkans.
At the outset of the play, Taylor's protagonist Professor Halder (Charles Dance) seems to exemplify 'goodness'. He's an expert on Goethe and author of a pro-euthanasia novel, who cares for his invalid mother (Faith Brook), has a Jewish friend Maurice (Ian Gelder), and carefully balances work and family life.
However, he enters into a Faustian pact with SS man Bouller (Peter Moreton), who offers career advancement in return for backing some dubious theories about 'mercy deaths', and thus begins a spiralling involvement which takes him all the way to Eichmann's extermination camps.
Halder increasingly seems to be afflicted by a kind of moral blindness. He dumps his wife Helen (Jessica Turner) for a young student (Emilia Fox) and scorns Maurice, seemingly without hurting his conscience. After the terrors of the 'Krystallnacht', there is a poignant scene in which he casually informs his stunned Jewish friend that the looting and murder was an act of necessity in order to 'shock the Jews into reality'.
Director Michael Grandage relies on a succession of Nazi stereotypes to add menace to Taylor's script: an inhumane doctor with little round glasses, leather trench-coated gestapo officers, and a book-burning bootboy named Bok (Cymon Allen). Hitler (John Ramm) on the other hand is presented as a grotesque parody, in the vein of Chaplin's Great Dictator.
Some light relief is provided by Halder's physiological quirk, which causes him to hear tunes in his head. Some Dennis Potter-style musical interludes depict him falling in love again to the strains of Dietrich, and attending the SS officers' club to the accompaniment of 'The Student Prince'.
Christopher Oram's set is a stark affair with a black slate floor, prosaic table and chairs and mottled grey backdrop with four violins. Hartley T A Kemp's lighting effects are equally subtle and restrained.
I found Dance's performance disappointing, being too monotone in delivery at times, but at least he looked the part in his jackboots and shiny uniform, and through to the play's grim conclusion is well supported by Gelder and Moreton. Ms Fox is suitably ingenuous, whilst Ms Turner's Helen cuts a pathetic figure worn down by her husband's infidelities.
Taylor's play, with its mixture of naive and evil characters, throws up some interesting moral questions, and offers through Halder, an insight into the complicit mind-set that helped perpetuate the Holocaust.