THE GOOD SOUL OF SZECHUAN
by Bertolt Brecht translated by David Harrower music by David Sawer.
Library Theatre To 28 November 2009.
Mon-Sat Mat 25 Nov 2pm & 28 Nov 2.30pm.
Audio-described 26 Nov.
Pre-show talk 28 Nov 1.30pm.
Runs 2hr 40min One interval.
TICKETS: 0161 236 7110.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 18 November.
Harsh parable honestly presented.
This is the Cinderella among the Brecht quartet that made his British reputation, without the humanity and wit of Caucasian Chalk Circle, the individual’s struggle amidst history’s sweep that fires Mother Courage, or against established religion in The Life of Galileo.
Instead, the central character splits herself in two – an image of the impact of society and individual greed, far shabbier without the other plays’ backdrop of war and grandeur. It’s relentlessly harsh, demonstrating how human behaviour undermines humanity’s approved morality.
The three gods searching earth for a good person are powerless; even the money they give the “good soul”, prostitute Shen Te, the only one who’ll shelter them overnight, can only be paid within the rules of some celestial accounts department. And Shen Te has to adopt the tough male guise of Shui Ta to keep from going under once people learn she has money, later surviving through drug-trafficking.
Love only makes matters worse. When Shen Te falls for a pilot – hero-figure of the thirties and forties – he exploits her most ruthlessly of all. But this divided-self, while as echt-Brechtian as anything in the canon, remains contrived, challenging an audience’s every dramatic instinct.
David Harrower’s translated the ‘Santa Monica’ version – Brecht’s wartime American home sounding unreal in contrast to the impoverished Chinese city-life which designer Michael Pavelka catches in his corrugated shanty-town set. Harrower includes a scene from the longer original, a drunken wedding to put beside others in the Brecht canon – the one from Caucasian Chalk Circle and the single-act A Respectable Wedding.
Chris Honer presents the play honestly, a rare emotional moment coming as addicts leave a heroin-den and a child rushes in to drag his parent home. Performances vary, with strong work from the comically insistent Marva Alexander, an ever-reliable Susan Twist and a couple more. Best is Poppy Miller’s central double, clothing and half-mask supporting her vivid switches between the vulnerably open She Te and an assertively controlled stance as her male alter ego; her onstage transformation is skilfully detailed, and the later moments when Shen Te shows through Shui Ta’s manner finely expressed.
Wife/Young Prostitute: Marva Alexander.
2nd God: Natasha Bain.
3rd God: John Cummins.
Carpenter/Mr Shu Fu: James Foster.
Yang Sun: Kieran Hill.
Child: Sol Hoffman/Samuel Lenthall.
Unemployed Man/Brother/Trumpeter: Anthony Hunt.
Mrs Mi Tsu/Mrs Yang/Sister-in-Law: Julie Jupp.
Wang: Cornelius Macarthy.
1st God: Olwen May.
Nephew/Pianist: Tarek Merchant.
Shen Te/Shui Ta: Poppy Miller.
Policeman/Priest: Josh Moran.
Husband/Trumpeter: Peter Toon.
Mrs Shin/Old Prostitute: Susan Twist.
Director: Chris Honer.
Designer: Michael Pavelka.
Lighting: Nick Richings.
Sound: Paul Gregory.
Musical Director: Greg Palmer.
Video: Matt Spencer.
Movement: Niamh Dowling.