Saturday, July 26, 2008

Review: "Never So Good"

In 1957, British Prime Minister Harold MacMillan gave a rousing speech where he declared that the misery of World War II and the post-war time were at an end. The economy was booming, rationing and war time austerity were over, and the war's trauma was receding from memory. He exclaimed, "you will see prosperity such as we have never had in my lifetime ... Britain has never been in such a good state ... most of our people have never had it so good."

I didn't know anything about Harold MacMillan until I saw this play but he was a fascinating character. His family founded the MacMillan publishing empire and his overbearing mother was an American from Indiana. He had a homosexual experience at boarding school. He was badly injured in World War I multiple times. His wife Dorothy had a decades-long affair with a close associate of Churchill's named Bob Boothby (MacMillan succeeded in destroying Boothby's political career where he became Prime Minister). MacMillan sided with Churchill against Chamberlain on appeasing Hitler and, after the war, was one of Churchill's closest allies. MacMillan helped Prime Minister Anthony Eden negotiate the Suez Crises of 1956 and, after it became clear that Eden was a drunk pill popper, MacMillan became Prime Minister in 1957. He was very popular until 1962 when one of his ministers named John Perfumo got involved in a sex scandal with a Russian double-agent. This became a political nightmare for MacMillan, a staunch Roman Catholic, and he retired in 1963. He died in 1986.

Never So Good by Howard Brenton covers these events in MacMillan's life. Jeremy Irons plays MacMillan from middle to old age and a young actor named Pip Carter plays Young Mac who follows his older counterpart around, making snide comments and deriding what he has become. Anna Chancellor manages to make his adulterous wife Dorothy a sympathetic character and, after Irons, the best performance is by Ian McNiece as a hilarious Winston Churchill. You might think this is a stuffy British play about old politicians but you'd be wrong: there are war-time scenes with the most incredible explosions I've ever seen and the play moves through the decades with music and dancing, ending in the 1960s with sleazy dance music. While the sets are simple, they manage to re-create what I imagine the atmosphere of wartime and post-war Britain was like.

Iron is just amazing. "Never so good" might be said about his performance. You see what a great actor he is and that he's at the top of his game. And to think he won his Best Actor Oscar for Reversal of Fortune almost 20 years ago -- time clearly hasn't dulled his talents. He walks on stage as MacMillan and captivates. Just great.

Never So Good closes in London in August and currently there aren't plans to do it in NYC. Irons is scheduled to do another play with Joan Allen on Broadway next year, however, called Impressionism. But according to the New York Post, Irons has said he'd like to do Never So Good on Broadway eventually. Let's hope this happens!


  1. I was all excited about seeing Never So Good until the last line. *sigh* Impressionism it is...

  2. Hopefully "Impressionism" will be good and that "Never So Good" will make it to Broadway eventually. If so, you'll be in for a treat :)


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