Never So Good was first performed in the Lyttelton auditorium of the National Theatre on 26 March 2008 (previews from 17 March 2008). It explores the decline of British fortunes in the middle of the twentieth century through a portrait of Harold Macmillan, the Conservative politician and Prime Minister.
The play, divided into four acts, covers Macmillan's early life and military experience in World War I; his involvement in British politics during the descent into World War II; the Suez Crisis, during which he served as Chancellor of the Exchequer; and his service as Prime Minister, during which the reputation of his government was severely damaged by the Profumo Affair. Macmillan's younger self remains with him through the play, providing mocking commentary.
The title of Never So Good derives from Macmillan's speech to a Conservative rally in Bedford in July 1957, which included the oft-quoted line 'most of our people have never had it so good'.
The play's National Theatre premiere was directed by Howard Davies. The cast included Jeremy Irons as Harold Macmillan, Anthony Calf as Anthony Eden, Pip Carter as young Harold Macmillan, Anna Carteret as Nellie Macmillan, Anna Chancellor as Dorothy Macmillan and Ian McNeice as Winston Churchill.
Press reaction to the play was generally admiring, with many critics noting with surprise that, for a playwright associated with the political Left, Brenton's portrait of Macmillan is surprisingly sympathetic. Charles Spencer in particular, writing in The Daily Telegraph, reported that Brenton had 'originally set out to write a satire about Harold Macmillan... But the more [he] researched the man once dubbed the great actor-manager of British politics, the more he came to admire him, and this gripping, compassionate and often delightfully comic play strikes me as his finest achievement to date.'