Director Lisa Thomas introduces Good, CP Taylor’s much-lauded 1981 play. Set in Frankfurt before WWII, Good has been described as a definitive piece concerning the Holocaust.
“The author… rejects the view that Nazi atrocities are… a result of the simple conspiracy of criminals and psychopaths.” How do you think this notion is brought out in the play?
When writing Good, C P Taylor was trying to make sense of what amounted to war crimes on an almost overwhelming scale and as an industrialised process. Though born in Glasgow, he was a Jew of Russian descent and his extended family would have been greatly impacted by the Holocaust.
None of the people we meet in the play are portrayed as monsters. Some are very engaging people. Mostly they are people doing their job, seeing the anti-Jewish sloganising of the Nazis as just a step in the road towards getting Germany out of the chaos that had prevailed after the First World War. He shows how people who would have considered themselves liberals – ‘good’ people as they define themselves – were taken in by the order and prosperity that the National Socialists seemed to promise.
What drew you to choosing this piece to direct?
I’ve known it for many years – I saw the original RSC production as a teenager and it had a massive impact on me, both as a piece of theatre and as a way of trying to explain how ordinary Germans could take part in such heinous crimes. In today’s increasingly intolerant political climate, it seemed to have much to say still about the dangers of tolerating, or going along with policies that attack or disadvantage particular groups of people.
Most of my mother’s extended family who remained in Europe were victims of the Holocaust and I still feel the need to shout about it to honour their memory and try to ensure that something similar does not happen again. It’s also a piece of low-key Brechtian theatre that uses its cast and audience as part of the story – which is an interesting way to approach the story.
There’s a lot of music in the play – what’s the function of it?
The main character is in something of a state of personal crisis due to pressure at home and at work. He hears music at all of the major turning points in his story, from jazz bands to Wagner and Beethoven, or a traditional Bavarian mountain band. They counterpoint his story and to some extent underscore the journey he takes in his head and in actuality. Some is recorded but some is sung on stage to blur the lines between reality and remembrance. The music also lightens the tone of material that could come across as serious and didactic, and allows the audience to see some of the ridiculousness of Halder’s situation.
Tell us about the cast of characters in the play.
The main character is John Halder (Nick Howard), a professor of literature at Frankfurt University and we follow his journey throughout the play. His wife Helen (Bex Law) is depressed, and his mother (Lily Ann Green) is getting frail and demanding. His best friend is Maurice, a Jewish psychiatrist (Alex Watts) who is afraid of the political situation and what it means for him. Maurice is also presented as the only person who sees the truth. As the story progresses, Halder has an affair with one of his students (Claudia Lace).
A novel that he wrote in response to his mother’s problems is seized on by the Nazis and he becomes drawn into helping make policy for them. He joins the Nazis because he is flattered by them and feels it is essential to further his career. He keeps telling himself that their more obnoxious policies are just a device to draw in popular support and will be dropped when they have served their purpose. Other key characters are Freddie (Mitchell Labiak), a major in the SS with whom Halder becomes friends – and who shows the fear at the heart of the party – that one might not match up to the ideal of German manhood. And most chillingly, we meet Adolf Eichmann (Jack King), infamous as the functionary who found the means to industrialise the so-called ‘Final Solution’.
It’s a fascinating and intensely thought-provoking play about a serious subject, and yet presented as entertainment. I hope it will make audiences think and question the way they might react in a similar situation.
Good runs Tuesday 3 – Saturday 7 March at the Old Fire Station. Buy tickets here
Rehearsal images by Lisa Thomas