“People want things to make sense”
Anchored by a barnstorming central turn from Imelda Staunton (as if there were any other kind), David Lindsay-Abaire’s Good People was a huge success for the Hampstead Theatre, so they’ve returned to this American playwright with his Pulitzer Prize-winning drama Rabbit Hole. The suburban comforts of Becca and Howie Corbett’s family life are wrecked when their four-year-old Danny is killed in a road accident outside their home. Tragedy swallows them whole and grief tears them apart, the divergence in their individual journeys threatening what’s left of their family.
The 2006 Broadway run got multiple Tony nominations and won for lead Cynthia Nixon and in 2011, the superb film adaptation garnered an Academy Award nomination for Nicole Kidman, so the stakes could be considered high for Outnumbered star Claire Skinner here. Edward Hall’s production never quite launches into the stratosphere though; whereas Good People depicted an authentic-feeling US working class life, Rabbit Hole’s middle class milieu doesn’t convince, too stagily British for its own good.
The ingredients are all there. Skinner nails the pragmatic fervour of a woman determined to move on by keeping busy and connecting with Sean Delaney’s Jason (the car driver) whereas Tom Goodman-Hill’s Howie finds succour in remembrances and the support group (interestingly only ever mentioned here as opposed to the film which had whole scenes played out there) that his wife so hates. But their emotional repression doesn’t quite have the impact needed to cross the ocean effectively, one is never truly transported out of NW3 and it’s a tension which may be resolved as the run progresses, but proved problematic for me.
Georgina Rich and Penny Downie (a worthy replacement for an indisposed Alison Steadman) fare better as Becca’s sister and mother who find it easier to be more expansively American and the latter is supremely good in one of the show’s most affecting sequences. Becca’s determination to suffer her pain alone blinds her to the reality that though no-one can understand the specificity of her raw grief, others have suffered similar experiences and survived, not least her own mother who has already buried one son. A beautifully tender moment but sadly, not one that is symptomatic of the production as a whole.