Brecht Revival Doesn't Disappoint

Review: The Good Person of Szechwan

This imaginative new adaptation of The Good Person of Szechwan is clever, witty and very entertaining.

When I learnt there was to be a revival of Brecht's Good Person of Szechwan I was delighted, Brecht has been out of fashion for too long, but I was also, a little concerned; as a big fan, I might have been disappointed at this new adaption, but I need not have worried. This is a hugely imaginative, clever, witty, energetic, fast  moving production that swings from serious to funny in a heartbeat without descending into farce. The script has been tweaked a little and brought up to date with occasional references to the property ladder, brunch and air heads, but they haven't taken liberties with it; the spirit of Brecht remains intact.

To give you a bit of background, Brecht was a prolific German writer at the end of the nineteenth and start of the twentieth centuries. He espoused a style knows as epic theatre, a form of political drama intended to appeal to reason rather than the emotions. He didn't want his audiences to identify with the characters, he wanted to give them something to think about, which is just what happens here. In this play he asks if it's possible to be good in an evil world, but he doesn't offer any answers, it's up to the audience to decide for themselves.

It's all very minimalist as just four actors play at least  15 characters, with only a few headscarves and funny walks and voices to mark the changes. A door frame on wheels serves for the scene changes, while the props are restricted to a couple of umbrellas, a Chinese lantern and lots of bit and pieces, like a car boot sale all topped off  with some skilful puppetry - the icing on the cake. And of course there's music; Brecht approved of music. This boasts an original score composed by Joseph Bell with room for the cast to grab guitars and sing along from time to time.

The good person in question is Shen Teh, a naive, sweet  young woman who only wants to do good and help her neighbours, who see her as a soft touch and take advantage. She's played to gentle, befuddled perfection by Lucinda Lloyd. Things get worse after she encounters a couple of gods in the form of a huge green dragon and a very big dog with alarming eyes. They reward her goodness with 200 silver coins and then disappear to leave her to fend for herself. She buys a tobacco shop and the neighbours, scenting money, get worse in their attempts to get their hands on it.

Poor Shen Teh changes into her imaginary male cousin, Shui Tah with a pipe and bowler hat, who is better able to stand up for her than she is as herself. Eventually the neighbours wonder why the two are never seen together. Things get more complicated when she falls in love, how does she know if object of her desire is the real thing or just one more person after her shop. What's a girl to do? That is the question.

And so it carries on for two gloriously entertaining hours. It's not a comedy, there are some serious issues being discussed, with some very poignant moments, but it's got a lightness of touch that stops it being didactic.

The other members of the cast are Matthew Springett, Venetia Twigg and Noah Young with skilful direction by Alice Sillett who also created the puppets. And top marks to the rest of the production team Amanda Mascarenhas, Nic Farman and Daniel English for smashing costumes, set design and lighting.

For Brecht afficionados I can't recommend it highly enough, for newcomers, this is an excellent place to start.

  • It's at the New Wimbledon Studio until Friday May 6. Tickets £10, Concessions £8. Box Office 0844 871 7646.

By Penny Flood

May 5, 2016

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New Wimbledon Studio until Friday May 6. Tickets £10, Concessions £8

Box Office 0844 871 7646