Hello Georgie, Goodbye Best (rating 3/5)
January 9, 1971, three years after being named European Footballer of the Year, George Best failed to turn up for a game. He should have been playing for Manchester United away to Chelsea, but he missed the train, possibly for the same reason he had missed training most of that week – he was recovering from a night out.
When he arrived in the capital, instead of catching up with his teammates, he went straight to the home of an actress. Any hopes of hiding away were shattered the following morning as cameramen and reporters discovered his whereabouts and camped outside the Islington flat waiting for him to emerge.
Hello Georgie, Goodbye Best is the story of that weekend. It’s also part of the story of a footballing genius whose best years were already behind him before he was 25. However, if you’re looking for a biopic-style exploration of Best’s demise, you won’t find it here.
There are hints of why Best was on a path of self-destruction: the pressure of playing in a team that was past its peak and being expected to almost single-handedly keep the good times going, along with an awareness of the unreality of his fame while fellow countrymen struggled to earn a living. But, for the most part, the play is about two people – Best and the actress, Sinead Cusack – and one weekend.
Both actors give convincing performances, with Robbie Martin as Best escaping from a conflict he’s trying to understand, and Rafaela Elliston as Cusack having to balance her feelings for him against the position he is placing her in.
At the time it is set, neither Best nor Cusack knew what the future held for them, and the play works best when seen in that context, as well as a more general reflection on the pressures of fame for someone unprepared for the world it opens up for them.
Hello Georgie, Goodbye Best is at Greenside, Infirmary Street, until 25 August (not 12 or 19)