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All Good Men / Thermidor

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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Trevor Griffiths' All Good Men originally appeared as a BBC Play for Today in 1974 with a stage production at the Young Vic staged the following year.

It is presented at the Finborough with Thermidor, another of Griffiths' short plays, as an opener. We are in Moscow in 1937 and Anya (Sophie Steer) has been called to the party headquarters because she was once acquainted with people who have since been deemed to be "enemies" of the state. In the course of the interrogation, it becomes clear that Anya is now also considered a traitor thanks to this casual acquaintance.

All Good Men is set in Surrey in 1974. Edward Waite, a former miner, union leader and Labour MP is up for a knighthood and preparing to be interviewed by a keen young television producer for a documentary about his life. Did he sell out the workers during the General Strike (as his ultra-socialist son William believes) or was he a pragmatic left-wing politician doing what he thought was right to improve people's lives?

The parallels between the accusations of betrayal made in each play are stark and effective, adding an additional layer of world history to the already substantial All Good Men.

David Weston brings an avuncular but authoritative air to Waite, while Ben Deery's TV producer Massingham is both charmingly enthusiastic and untrustworthy.

In the Thermidor two-hander Ben Whybrow as the functionary Yukhov lacks the developing sense of menace that needs to accompany his matter-of-fact words as he slowly condemns Anya and it is left to Sophie Steer to ramp up the feeling of threat. Steer does this in spades in a wonderfully spare, nervy and nuanced performance as Anya realises that the call to the party HQ was to effect her arrest, not simply to investigate her past.

Whybrow fares better in All Good Men in the role of Edward's son castigating his father for what he sees as a betrayal of the working class. But in spite of taut direction by Rania Jumaily some of William's speeches in particular feel over-long and his socialist rhetoric more of an anvil than a scalpel.

But All Good Men remains an interesting and thought-provoking piece and worthy of its current revival.

-- Carole Gordon


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