Theatre Review: Never So Good

20 Mar

Plot: Set against a back-drop of fading Empire, war, the Suez crisis, vintage champagne, adultery and vicious Tory politics at the Ritz, Howard Brenton’s Never So Good paints the portrait of a brilliant, witty but complex man, at times comically and, in the end, tragically out of kilter with his times.

Harold Macmillan, the Eton-educated idealist who rushed, with Homer’s Iliad under his arm, to do his duty in the Grenadier Guards, is tormented by the harsh experiences of war and an unhappy marriage. His career in the 30s is blocked by his loyalty to Winston Churchill and he nearly loses his life in the Second World War. When at last he becomes Prime Minister he is brought down by he Profumo scandal.

Confession. Apart from the Profumo affair, I do not know a squat about once Tory Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, also known as Lord Stockton. So I have to admit that the main reason I decided to watch this play was really to see Jeremy Irons perform on stage which apparently was also his National Theatre debut. I have been a fan of Mr. Irons since The French Lieutenant’s Woman, The Mission, and Reversal of Fortune among many other films, and it would be great to see him live and all I can say was that, he didn’t disappoint. He was, without pun intended, ever so good.

“Events, dear boy, events”. This was Macmillan’s reply when asked what could of caused a downfall of governments and it’s the truth in that statement still rings true today. First of all, the account on Macmillan’s life was very interesting indeed. To show us his younger years, and his inner turmoils, his younger self was played by Pip Carter who also acted as his conscience during the play’s progression. The play in four acts was written by Howard Brenton, who according to the Telegraph’s Charles Spencer “wrote a play which was deeply sympathetic to a Tory PM”. Brenton, according to The Independent’s Alice Jones is apparently a self-professed Marxist and celebrated left-wing satirist, so what’s up with the seemingly human portrait of the man also known as Supermac?

It was also a good opportunity for me catch up on some British history and politics, which again I do not know much about. Now I know a tad more about Macmillan’s connections with Winston Churchill which was superbly played here by Ian Mcneice, his adulterous wife Dorothy played by Anna Chancellor (Pride and Prejudice, Four Weddings and a Funeral) and her bisexual lover Bob Boothby played by Robert Glenister (Persuasion).

Never So Good: 3.5/5

Playing at the Lyttelton, National Theatre until August 14

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