Howard lets the Good times roll


This is springtime for Nazis in the theatre. The theme was forcefully established in the Portage to San Cristobel of AH and later this month will be reinforced by Summit Conference, a two-hander in which Glenda Jackson and Georgina Hale portray a fictitious meeting between the mistresses of Hitler and Mussolini.

And a few days before Summit Conference, the award-winning play that started it all, C.P. Taylor's Good, returns to re-open the Aldwych Theatre under new ownership. It was first seen at the Warehouse last September.

Someone lucky enough to see one of the earlier performances described it as the nearest to a Shakespearean experience he had ever had in the contemporary theatre. Alan Howard relates the description. He is one of our greatest Shakespearean actors and in Good he makes an all too rare appearance in a modern play.

Howard claims that the friend who made the remark was not referring to the way in which he plays the part of Halder: "He was suggesting that C.P. Taylor, like Shakespeare, poses a million questions but does not slip into the trap of offering easy answers."

The questions he poses concern how good, decent, liberal humane men came to be swept up by the Nazi juggernaut. But the play is as much about now as then. "It's a warning to us not to blinker ourselves and avoid issues: not to divorce our political beliefs from our everyday lives. We should be much more concerned and aware every minute of our lives."

Alan Howard believes that C.P. Taylor wrote Good with him in mind. "Some years ago I was in another of his plays, Black and White Minstrels, which also used social behaviour as a way of approaching political ideas and concerned compromise and survival and the mess we get ourselves into.

"Cecil had been wanting for ten years to write a play on a Faustian theme for children but it grew and grew until it was no longer for children. Good retains the Faustian notion of having your cake and eating it, which at heart is what everyone wants. Halder has his cake and destroys people left, right and centre. He knows he is doing it but pretends to himself that he doesn't. It was difficult for the cast at the beginning not to be affected as post-holocaust people. We had to keep telling ourselves that the characters we were playing didn't know what was going to happen."

Howard's commitment to the play is total. "I want to do as much with this play as I can; I think it deserves a wide audience. We'll be at the Aldwych for 12 weeks initially, maybe we'll stay longer or go to another theatre and then we are taking it to America.

"We'd have gone sooner but for the nonsense between the two Equities and the need to get unit company status so that we could all go. In a way it's worked out well. This is a native play and it ought to be seen in London first. I'd have felt pissed off if we'd have gone to America first."

Howard's rare appearances in modern works do not reflect a lack of interest in post-Shakespearean theatre. "To me a play is a play and I don't see an enormous difference. Shakespeare's language is not so familiar, so it does obscure the meaning of what one is saying. A contemporary play is more direct, which is a good thing."

His return to the American-owned Aldwych he describes as a voyage of discovery. "We did a one-night benefit there for C.P. Taylor, and it worked terrifically well even though it is a bit big for such a play." And whether it will now feel like a West End theatre remains to be seen. "Very often the West End is a bit glossy - you get quite a lot of mink wall. That wouldn't suit a play like this."

Guardian, 10.4.82

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