“That’s the way the cookie crumbles when the shit hits the fan”
Trevor Griffiths’ All Good Men was originally a 1974 BBC Play for Today and though adapted for the stage the next year, has rarely been seen in the UK since then. Ever keen to sniff out hidden classics, the Finborough have revived it in their Sunday/Monday slot, paired with another short play by Griffiths – 1971’s Thermidor – rather neatly at a time when the morals of politicians are back in the headlines (but then, when are they never…)
All Good Men centres on the political career of Edward Waite, a lifelong stalwart of the Labour party who rose from being a miner through union stewardship to holding positions in government, as a sharp young documentary maker prepares to make a television programme all about him, in advance of him accepting a peerage. But when Edward is taken ill, the arrival of his son and daughter proves less of a comfort and more of a challenge as the family albums and archives reveal a past that is not all that it seems and a family torn between idealism and political reality.
David Weston (he of Covering McKellen fame and possessed of a fine head of hair) brings a fine haughtiness and self-assuredness to Waite, basking in the attention and reciting his past achievements almost by rote, convincing us of his political integrity whilst rising through his own rags to riches tale. But the limitations of the format, the show runs at under 80 minutes, means that Griffiths gives himself little room to manoeuvre an effective story or convincing characters around him. The chief conflict comes from his fiercely socialist son who believes his father has betrayed his roots and ideals and is not afraid of loudly proclaiming so, but though Ben Whybrow delivers some incredibly verbose passages well, there’s no escaping the fact there is no characterisation here just a fount of viewpoints.
Likewise, Sophie Steer’s muted daughter makes little real impact, nor is allowed to, only Ben Deery’s (still in The Woman in Black so doing 10 shows a week altogether!) suave TV man Massingham really registered, the oily Winchester-educated arrogance slowly revealing his hidden agenda as Waite’s secrets start to tumble out. But because of the limitations of the piece, these ideas of whether a single misjudgement negates a lifetime of good work and what place idealism has in the rough and tumble of real politics, are not given enough room to breathe and develop beyond simple statements of position. Rania Jumaily’s direction too often sits statically in James Turner’s design, limited by sitting on top of the set for the main show at the Finborough, but the overall feel is of accomplishment rather than revelation.
The show is preceded by the 20 minute Thermidor, an earlier 20 minute two-hander set in the Moscow headquarters of the NKVD where a meeting between a young mother and an interrogating officer reveals the narrowness of the Party’s definitions of loyalty. As it becomes clear she’s been deemed guilty, their debate reveals how a matter of simple semantics could actually determine whether someone is condemned or acquitted. Again, Steer and Whybrow do well but the slightness of the piece meant its impact was somewhat limited.