David Tennant as John Halder
in Good at the Harold Pinter Theatre
Photo by Johan Persson
056 – Good, by C.P. Taylor
John Halder is a professor of literature at Frankfurt University. He is a cultured and caring man, who is married with two children, and who looks after his mother who suffers from dementia. He lives in dramatic times, because this is 1933, and Adolf Hitler and the National Socialists have come to power in Germany. The professor finds himself drawn into joining the Nazi elite as they pursue their terrible political and cultural agenda. His story is played out in C.P. Taylor’s disturbing, cautionary play, Good, which charts how an ostensibly ‘good’ person can become not just complicit to evil behaviour, but an active participant. The way in which an ordinary individual is caught up in a populist crusade speaks strongly to the dangers of our own time, where pernicious views and misinformation are so easily disseminated.
Good was first staged by the Royal Shakespeare Company at the Donmar Warehouse in September 1981. As we record this episode a new production of Good is currently running at the Harold Pinter theatre in London’s West End, directed by Dominic Cooke and starring David Tennant as John Halder. I’m hugely honoured to have the opportunity to talk with director Dominic Cooke about this original and powerful play, and his new production.
Dominic Cooke is an acclaimed director of stage and acreen. He was the Artistic Director of the Royal Court theatre from 2006 to 2013, where he presided over a exhilaratingly creative period which included premieres of Jez Butterworth’s Jerusalem, Lucy Prebble’s Enron, and Bruce Norris’s Clybourne Park to name just a few favourites.
He is an Associate Director of the National Theatre, where his acclaimed productions have included Caryl Churchill’s Here We Go, August Wilson’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, and Stephen Sondheim’s Follies in 2017, which was nominated for no fewer than 10 Olivier awards, and more recently Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart and Emlyn Williams’ The Corn is Green.
Dominic is also a writer and director for TV and film, having adapted and directed the BBC series of Shakespeare’s The Hollow Crown – The Wars of the Roses, as well as directed the films On Chesil Beach and The Courier, and he is next due to direct a film version of Follies.
Dominic recommended The Winter’s Tale by William Shakespeare.
The Footnotes to our episode on C.P.Taylor’s Good include observations on Halder’s solipsism, his shameful betrayal of his friend Maurice, and how individual moral paralysis writ large can sanction a political crusade.
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Shakespeare’s devastating exploration of race, reputation and jealousy, The Tragedy of Othello, The Moor of Venice was a popular success when it was first performed during Shakespeare’s lifetime, but in the centuries since it has provoked a wide range of responses as successive generations have grappled with the racial identity of the eponymous character. As we record this episode a new production of Othello at Shakespeare’s Globe theatre in London views the play’s treatment of race through a contemporary lens, setting the play within the London Metropolitan police force, a topical environment for racial inspection.
I am privileged to welcome as my guest someone especially qualified to help us navigate the tricky waters of Shakespeare’s play, Farah Karim-Cooper, Director of Education at Shakespeare’s Globe, Professor of Shakespeare Studies at Kings College London, and the author of The Great White Bard – Shakespeare, Race and the Future.
Ken Nwosu as Othello and Ralph Davies as Iago
Sam Wanamaker Playhouse
Photo by Johan Persson
Harold Pinter’s disturbing exploration of toxic masculinity and sexual maneuvering, The Homecoming premiered in 1965. The play’s portrait of misogyny, and even more disturbing, the apparent female complicity, was shocking at the time it was written. Nearly 60 years on the sexual politics is if anything even more difficult to watch. So what was Pinter’s purpose in presenting such a provocative piece, and how do we process it in the post Me-Too age?
I am joined by Matthew Dunster, the director of a scintillating new production of the play at the Young Vic in London, who can help us answer those questions about Pinter’s challenging classic.
Lisa Diveney as Ruth at the Young Vic – photo by Dean Chalkley.
Henrik Ibsen’s dark family drama Ghosts provoked outrage when it was published in 1881, its treatment of sexual disease, incest and euthanasia too much for the critics. More than 140 years later its portrait of repressed truths and social hypocrisy remains as powerful as ever.
Professor Kirsten Shepherd-Barr of St Catherine’s College, Oxford, helps us review Ibsen’s unflinching drama.
Hattie Morahan as Helene Alving at the Sam Wanamaker Theatre, London, December 2023. Photo by Marc Brenner.