Hello Georgie, Goodbye Best
Reviewed – 10th April 2018
“Very little actually happens between Cusack and Best at all during the play”
January 9th 1971: Manchester United are heading to London for a crucial away game at Chelsea. However, their star player, George Best, is nowhere to be seen, and the team must leave without him. A day later he is discovered by the press and an army of fans at actress Sinead Cusack’s flat on the other side of the capital. This is the backdrop for Hello Georgie, Goodbye Best, a new play written by and starring Robbie Martin and Rafaela Elliston.
Best may still be United’s champion, but his career has entered a tailspin, and so has his alcoholism. Cusack’s star, meanwhile, is rising on both stage and screen. The pair are heading rapidly in two different directions and their on-again-off-again romance is buckling under the pressure of family, fame, and career. Best appears on Cusack’s doorstep, drunk, on Saturday morning, and over this lost weekend in Islington, everything comes to a head.
The drama takes place almost entirely in Cusack’s apartment, and the design reflects this: tables, chairs, televisions and tea sets fight for space on the small stage. Martin and Elliston make full use of the theatre’s size, enhancing the play’s sense of claustrophobia.
But ten minutes in, and the piece starts to creak.
The first issue is the writing. The story idea is a good one and, given Best’s ecstatic personality both on-pitch and off, ripe for drama. However, this is exactly what the play lacks. There is no discernible narrative arc, and the play is mostly just a series of exchanges between the two: confessions and occasional flirting. This could be fine, except that the exchanges don’t seem to go anywhere, and the changes in mood just don’t feel genuine. Very little actually happens between Cusack and Best at all during the play. Sure, they talk, they fight, they drink, they go out for dinner at one point, but there is little change in pace or register throughout and little action or conversation that explores character or story. Instead of revealing inner tension through dialogue, Martin and Elliston choose to reveal what is happening in their characters’ heads by having them explain it outright. This makes for a pretty sterile experience. Even when the press arrives at Cusack’s door, finally advancing the plot at around half time, there is no discernible change in the pair’s dynamic. Given the tumultuous real lives of its subjects, one can’t help but feel that an opportunity has been wasted.
The acting is also shaky. Robbie Martin certainly looks the part, nattily dressed and with sideburns and Beatle haircut, but he delivers everything in monotone, and the only bits that are really convincing are those featuring Best as cheeky chap. Best as hopeless romantic and Best as misunderstood genius both fail to fly. Elliston’s Cusack is slightly more substantial, but both actors seem to struggle with a lack of solid material. This, and a maddening habit of missing sound and lighting cues, leave both performances feeling wooden.
And yet, it must be said that the play treats its subject with a deserving respect. It is sad that for many George Best’s legacy is as a cartoon rabble rouser, given that he was described by Pelé, Maradona, and Johann Cruyff as perhaps the best player they’d ever seen. Martin and Elliston do try to get to the heart of Best’s passion for the game, as well as his anguish at the cavalcade that was beginning to surround it, a factor that drove him away from the sport just as much as his lifestyle. At one or two moments the piece does manage to tap into this side of Best, and it is then that the play is most engaging, but sadly these episodes are too few and far between.
Reviewed Harry True
Hello Georgie, Goodbye Best